Rich Man, Poor Man: Art, Class, and Commerce in a Late Medieval Town

The Met Cloisters, 99 Margaret Corbin Drive Fort Tryon Park New York, NY 10040
Start Date
March 6, 2023
End Date
August 20, 2023
Phone Number
    • Overview

      Below the monarch, nobility, and land-owning gentry in the highly stratified society of sixteenth-century England stood those known as the “middling sort.” Like their compatriots of higher rank, they too saw art and architecture as a means of self-fashioning.

      This exhibition examines the emergence of distinctly middle-class taste in late medieval England by showcasing a rare set of large-scale domestic sculptures from Exeter. Commissioned by a merchant named Henry Hamlyn, the sculptures, which adorned the exterior of his house, feature stock characters drawn from popular prints and bawdy tales: a jester, a quarreling couple, peasants, and musicians. Rustic in style and subject matter, they fascinatingly came across as figures both amusing and menacing.

      With over fifty works, including textiles, prints, furnishings, and other decorative arts, Rich Man, Poor Man explores why Hamlyn might have been drawn to such imagery. It also highlights how the home, both inside and out, could serve as a form of individual self-expression and a statement of social order.

      The exhibition is made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund.
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