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V&A Museum

Listed under Technology & Design Museums in London, United Kingdom.

  • Photo of V&A Museum
  • Photo of V&A Museum
Photo of V&A Museum
Photo by flickr user E|NoStress|
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The V and A Museum, the letters standing for Victoria and Albert, is packed with notable pieces of decorative art and design made over the past three thousand years by cultures living in Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America. There are some great pieces of classical art in the collections but it's not all paintings and sculpture, a lot of pieces were once just the flotsam and jetsam of daily life. Acquired since 1852, there are four and a half million items in the ever growing collection, displayed in what can be an overwhelming 145 galleries. Luckily the museum has free entry so you don’t need to get around the whole complex in one day.

The museum’s collections of metalwork, textiles, glass, jewellery, ceramics, clothing, sculpture, printmaking, drawings, miniatures, silver and religious artifacts are world renowned, but the British Galleries, the Italian Renaissance collection, which is the largest outside of Italy, and the collection of casts of famous stonework from throughout Europe draw most visitors towards the front doors.

The impression on the other side of the doors is one of space. The large dome of the entrance hall proves that it isn’t just the items in the collection which are there to inspire – the building itself is an exhibit in its own right, a collage of old and new styles, like an architect’s scrapbook. Gazing upwards to accommodate a dropping jaw, the vast, light central dome comes into focus, surrounded by polished marble and stone in a revival of the classical style. The tangled mess of bright sea green and ice blue glass tentacles hanging from the dome is a chandelier by Dale Chihuly and helps set the tone of the museum as a fusion of the art and design of all ages. Most people miss it but on the side of the balcony hidden from view when you first enter is a clock, which people in the know say is one of the most interesting in London.

Walking into the first of the British galleries you come face to face with a bust of Henry the seventh, cast from his face after death. Despite this frosty welcome the British galleries contain a cornucopia of items from royal and court life: Henry the eighth’s writing box, the Great Bed of Ware - at three hundred and twenty six centimeters wide there is plenty of space for extras, which is how Shakespeare referenced it in his play The Twelfth Night, a suit of armour. To an entire music room, a grand gilt filled space removed piece by detailed piece from Norfolk House in St. James’s Square; overwhelmingly golden, the elaborate design of the fixtures was usually reserved for around the outside of paintings, like a mini Versailles, this room is more opera house than music room.

The long sculpture gallery shows a collection of statues made mostly for British gardens and follys, or busts or memorials for churches and grand houses. Among them are works by Rodin, Bernini and Canova. In the eighteenth Century it was fashionable to have yourself portrayed as a classical figure, hair in the classical Greek or Roman style, wearing flowing robes. Some portraits depict people as characters from mythology, fable, or history, and it was common for the faces of characters in classical scenes to bear an uncanny resemblance to the patron's wife and family. Some of the smooth faced busts that you walk between were taken from death mask casts or from paintings rather than sittings. Pupil-less eyes staring disconcertingly from smooth faces mean the portrait was made after death.

For dedicated followers of fashion, the fashion gallery, traces the history of European fashionable dress from the beginning of the eighteenth Century to the present. The collection contains examples from some of the best designers of the days, including Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Largerfeld, Versace, Mary Quant, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood. Entering the gallery from the sculpture hall entrance will take you right past one of the most popular pieces in the Museum, a dress made by Catherine Walker for Princess Diana, for her nineteen eighty nine official visit to Hong Kong. Diana called it her Elvis dress because of the Vegas era Elvis collar. The dress is quite heavy with bubble like pearls. Must have been slightly uncomfortable to sit down in it…

The courtyard of the V and A was updated and the fountain added in summer 2005. You're not technically supposed to swim or paddle in the pond, but it's too much of a temptation for a lot of people. The back wall, now an entrance to the café was originally the main entrance and there was just garden between it and the road. When the front wing was added the designers tried to match the original design and carried the friezes and stonework on around the top of the walls just under the roof, if you face away from the original entrance you can see the new friezes, which cheekily the designers incorporated themselves into, a few modern instruments infiltrating the traditional scientific scenes.

Canova’s poor ‘Sleeping Nymph’, has had to be relegated up to the top floor after the skin of her presented rear proved too tempting not to touch – she used to be positioned by the exit, but so many people gave her a quick pat on the derriere as they left that she became difficult to keep clean.

V&A Website.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

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