Rich and Poor in Early Tudor England

For the emerging middle class in early Tudor England, the home served as both an assertion of social position and a form of self-expression. At The Met Cloisters, “Rich Man, Poor Man: Art, Class, and Commerce in a Late Medieval Town” explores this idea by looking at the house and tastes of one merchant in 16th-century Exeter.

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“Rich Man, Poor Man: Art, Class, and Commerce in a Late Medieval Town”. Photo by Bruce Schwarz Courtesy of The Met.

“Rich Man, Poor Man: Art, Class, and Commerce in a Late Medieval Town”. Photo by Bruce Schwarz Courtesy of The Met.

Featuring more than 50 works – textiles, prints, furnishings, and decorative arts objects – all from The Met collection, this exhibition offers a focused study of the intersection of art and class in an English city at its most prosperous moment. The exhibition is made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund.

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, stated: “This exhibition provides fresh insight into the surprising and important role art played in shaping class identity in medieval England. The sculptures that are at the center of this exhibition are exceedingly rare, and it is exciting to see them given the scholarly attention they deserve.”

Adriaen Isenbrant (Netherlandish, active by 1510–died 1551 Bruges). Man Weighing Gold. ca. 1515-20. Oil on wood. 20 x 12 in. (50.8 x 30.5 cm), with added strips of 1 3/4 in. (4.5 cm) at left and right. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931. 32.100.36.

Adriaen Isenbrant (Netherlandish, active by 1510–died 1551 Bruges). Man Weighing Gold. ca. 1515-20. Oil on wood. 20 x 12 in. (50.8 x 30.5 cm), with added strips of 1 3/4 in. (4.5 cm) at left and right. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931. 32.100.36.

Base for a Statuette. early 16th century. North French or South Netherlandish. Ivory. Overall: 3 5/8 x 4 3/4 x 4 9/16 in. (9.2 x 12.1 x 11.6 cm) The Cloisters Collection, 1955. 55.168.

Base for a Statuette. early 16th century. North French or South Netherlandish. Ivory. Overall: 3 5/8 x 4 3/4 x 4 9/16 in. (9.2 x 12.1 x 11.6 cm) The Cloisters Collection, 1955. 55.168.

Henry Hamlyn, a two-time mayor and wealthy cloth merchant, was one of Exeter’s most prominent citizens. The home he commissioned in the early 16th century was a colorful anomaly amid the town’s traditional buildings. A surprising element of Hamlyn’s house consisted of large-scale sculptures depicting characters drawn from popular prints and bawdy tales: a jester, a quarreling couple, peasants, and musicians.

Half Groat of Henry VII (1485-1509), 15th–16th century (?). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Joseph H. Durkee, 1898 (99.35.3452).

Half Groat of Henry VII (1485-1509), 15th–16th century (?). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Joseph H. Durkee, 1898 (99.35.3452).

Cusped Ring. 15th century. North European. Gold, hessonite garnet. Height 26.4 mm.; hoop inner diam. 20 mm.; hoop outer diam. 26 mm.; bezel 19 x 13 mm.; weight 12.34 g. Griffin Collection L.2015.72.14.

Cusped Ring. 15th century. North European. Gold, hessonite garnet. Height 26.4 mm.; hoop inner diam. 20 mm.; hoop outer diam. 26 mm.; bezel 19 x 13 mm.; weight 12.34 g. Griffin Collection L.2015.72.14.

Plate with Wife Beating Husband. Netherlandish. Plate. ca. 1480. Dinant or Malines. Copper alloy, wrought. Overall: 3 7/8 x 20 1/4 in. (9.8 x 51.5 cm) Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964 64.101.1499.

Plate with Wife Beating Husband. Netherlandish. Plate. ca. 1480. Dinant or Malines. Copper alloy, wrought. Overall: 3 7/8 x 20 1/4 in. (9.8 x 51.5 cm) Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964 64.101.1499.

Half groat of Henry VIII (r. 1509-47), 1544. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Assunta Sommella Peluso, Ada Peluso, and Romano I. Peluso, in memory of Ignazio Peluso, 2001 (2001.432.9).

Half groat of Henry VIII (r. 1509-47), 1544. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Assunta Sommella Peluso, Ada Peluso, and Romano I. Peluso, in memory of Ignazio Peluso, 2001 (2001.432.9).

Jug. 17th century. German, Cologne-Frechen Salt-glazed stoneware Height: 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm) Rogers Fund, 1917 17.203.5.

Jug. 17th century. German, Cologne-Frechen Salt-glazed stoneware Height: 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm) Rogers Fund, 1917 17.203.5.

Jug. ca. 1480-1500. Italian, Florence or environs (probably Montelupo) Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware). Overall: 6 15/16 × 4 1/2 in. (17.6 × 11.4 cm). Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1965 65.6.14.

Jug. ca. 1480-1500. Italian, Florence or environs (probably Montelupo) Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware). Overall: 6 15/16 × 4 1/2 in. (17.6 × 11.4 cm). Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1965 65.6.14.

Deliberately rustic in both style and subject matter, the sculptures prompt questions about Hamlyn’s motivations: Why would he – one of Exeter’s most powerful residents – decorate the exterior of his home with images of the city’s least powerful? Did he intend a celebration of urban life, or was he making a statement about his place in the city?

Testoon of Henry VIII (third coinage), 1509. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Assunta Sommella Peluso, Ignazio Peluso, Ada Peluso and Romano I. Peluso, 2007 (2007.160.6).

Testoon of Henry VIII (third coinage), 1509. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Assunta Sommella Peluso, Ignazio Peluso, Ada Peluso and Romano I. Peluso, 2007 (2007.160.6).

Tankard. Silver ca. 1620, stone late 19th century British. Serpentine, silver. Height: 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm). Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1968 68.141.112.

Tankard. Silver ca. 1620, stone late 19th century British. Serpentine, silver. Height: 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm). Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1968 68.141.112.

Trencher (one of a set). Late 16th-early 17th century. British. Oak and sycamore woods, painted, silvered and yellow varnished; inscription: ink (animal or vegetable) Diameter: 5 in. (12.7 cm). Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964. 64.101.1576.

Trencher (one of a set). Late 16th-early 17th century. British. Oak and sycamore woods, painted, silvered and yellow varnished; inscription: ink (animal or vegetable) Diameter: 5 in. (12.7 cm). Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964. 64.101.1576.

The exhibition showcases new scholarship and conservation work on the sculptures, which have been in storage for more than a decade. Though they were purchased by The Met in the 1970s, it was only recently that their original patron and location were discovered. The Hamlyn house was a striking monument in the center of Exeter and even became a well-known tavern early in its history before its demolition in the mid-19th century. This exhibition provides an expanded understanding of where and how these works originally functioned and the impact they had on passersby. The exhibition is organized by Melanie Holcomb, Curator and Manager of Collection Strategy, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters at The Met.

Quick look into the exhibition. Photo by Bruce Schwarz Courtesy of The Met.

Quick look into the exhibition. Photo by Bruce Schwarz Courtesy of The Met.

Related Programs

The exhibition will be accompanied by a variety of education programs at The Met Cloisters. Programs include: Drop-in Drawing for all ages, Saturday Sketching for teens, a Family Afternoon, and a How Did They Do That? event, as well as lectures, gallery talks, and art-making workshops. Education programs are made possible by The Helen Clay Frick Foundation.

Since April 2023, the Trie Café at The Met Cloisters will offer a special menu of beers and dishes inspired by medieval taverns.