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Victoria and Albert Museum – A Virtual Tour

Victoria and Albert Museum - A Virtual Tour

Victoria and Albert Museum – A Virtual Tour

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is one of the world’s largest museums of decorative arts and design.

Founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the V&A is located near the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Royal Albert Hall in London,

A Virtual Tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Name:                The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • City:                    London
  • Country:             United Kingdom
  • Established:        1852
  • Type:                   Decorative arts and design
  • Collection Size:   2,278,183 items in 145 galleries
  • Locations:           Cromwell Road, London, United Kingdom

Highlights Tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum

“The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova

“The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova is a Neoclassical statue of the three mythological charities who were daughters of Zeus (the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who ruled as king of the gods of Mount Olympus).

This version was initially made for the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and was initially housed in a specially designed Temple of the Graces.

The three sisters are identified as Euphrosyne, Aglaea, and Thalia, from left to right. They represent youth/beauty (Thalia), mirth (Euphrosyne), elegance (Aglaea). The Graces presided over banquets and gatherings, to delight the guests of the gods.

The Three Graces have inspired many artists and have served as subjects for many artists.

The Great Bed of Ware

The Great Bed of Ware is a huge oak four-poster bed, carved with marquetry, that was initially housed in the White Hart Inn in Ware, England.

Constructed in 1580, it was probably made to attract customers for an inn in Ware, Hertfordshire. It is twice the size of a modern double bed.

Ware was a day’s journey from London and a convenient place to stop for the night for travelers. The bed was publicized as having the capacity to sleep, 12 people.

Many of those who have used the bed have carved their names into its posts or applied red wax seals. Twenty instances of graffiti are still visible on the bedposts and headboard today.

The Great Bed has been referenced many times in literature from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (circa 1601) to Charles Dickens’ The Holly Tree.

Self-Portrait as a Young Man

“Self-Portrait as a Young Man” by Tintoretto is an early and forceful self-portrait, created with the aid of a mirror. Portraits of artists became popular with collectors during the Renaissance. 

Tintoretto was known as a recluse who preferred his own company, who rarely smiled.

“St Paul Preaching in Athens” by Raphael

“St. Paul Preaching in Athens” by Raphael depicts the Apostle Paul in Athens, delivering at the Areopagus, and recounted in Acts of the Apostles in the Bible.

The Areopagus sermon is the most dramatic and fullest reported speech of the missionary career of Saint Paul. Paul had encountered conflict as a result of his preaching in Thessalonica.

He was taken to Athens as a place of safety. While he was waiting for his companions to arrive, Paul was distressed to see Athens full of idols. So Paul went to the synagogue and the Agora on several occasions to preach about the Resurrection of Jesus.

“Samson Slaying a Philistine” by Giambologna

“Samson Slaying a Philistine” by Giambologna depicts Samson wielding the jawbone of an ass to slay one of the Philistines who have taunted him.

It is a famous example of the multiple viewpoints available in Giambologna’s sculptures. Its spiraling movement of the bodies meant that there is no one main viewpoint.

The dramatic pose is based on a composition by Michelangelo, who was in his late seventies when Giambologna met him in Rome.

The sculpture was created from just one block of marble and is supported by only five narrow points at the base. Although the statue is weathered from three centuries outdoors, it still shows Giambologna’s delicate carving.

Wedgwood Portland Vase

Josiah Wedgwood devoted four years of painstaking trials to duplicate the quality of the vase. It was eventually replicated not in glass but black and white jasperware.

Wedgwood finally managed to perfect it in 1790, with the issue of the “first edition” of copies, and it marked his final significant achievement.

The original Portland Vase is a Roman cameo glass vase, made about 2,00 years ago. The work in creating the Portland Vase must have taken its original artisan about two years to produce. 

The Day Dream

“The Day Dream” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was initially intended to be named Monna Primavera and depicts his lover and muse Jane Morris posed in a seated position on the bough of a sycamore tree.

She holds a small stem of honeysuckle in her hand, a token of love in the Victorian era. It symbolized the secret affair Rossetti was immersed in with Jane Morris at the time. She was the model for several of Rossetti’s well-known paintings.

This painting is one of Rossetti’s last and one of his few full-length depictions during this time of his career. The painting is signed “D. Rossetti 1880” on the lower right.

The scene is a representation of a woman in a green silk dress, shaded by the canopy of the sycamore tree’s leaves. All around her, the tree branches are depicted as if they want to embrace her.

“Portrait of a Lady Known as Smeralda” by Botticelli

“Portrait of a Lady Known as Smeralda” by Botticelli has an inscription on the windowsill, identifying this portrait as Smeralda Bandinelli (Brandini). This painting is a typical example of Botticelli’s early portraits.

Smeralda was a member of a respected Florentine family, the grandmother of the Florentine sculptor Baccio Bandinelli.

The identification of the sitter is based on the old, but not original, inscription at the bottom of the picture: “Smeralda di M.Bandinelli Moglie di VI… Bandinelli.”

A sign of her rank and respectable status is the handkerchief which she is holding in hand placed across her body.

From archive documents, it is known that in 1469 Smeralda was 30; her husband Viviano Brandini was 38, and they had three children.

She was the mother of the prominent Florentine goldsmith Michelangelo de Viviano de Brandini of Gaiuole, and grandmother of the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli.

“Neptune and Triton” by Bernini

“Neptune and Triton” by Bernini depicts Neptune ordering that Triton blows his shell to calm the waves. The scene is an allusion to Neptune and Triton, aiding Trojan ships as described by Virgil and Ovid.

The composition shows Neptune standing astride over his son Triton. Triton lies in a crouching position, and the two figures are mounted on a large half-shell. Neptune touseled hair and beard, suggests the storminess in this scene.

The marble sculpture group was commissioned by a Cardinal to serve as a fountain to decorate the pond in the garden of his villa in Rome.

Neptune points his trident down towards the waters, while Triton is blowing his conch, which was designed to spurt out water from the lake.

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum house a collection of famous sculpture reproductions from around the world. In a few cases, the originals have been destroyed, and the casts are a unique record of lost works.

Most of the copies were made in the 19th century, and in some instances, they have better resisted the ravages of time, including 20th-century pollution, and various conservation efforts.

The practice of reproducing famous sculptures in plaster dates back to the sixteenth century, but early in this initiative most were private collections and remained modest. By 1800 there were more extensive collections in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and elsewhere.

The 19th-century interest in medieval art led to casts being made of national monuments in Europe. In Britain, from 1841 onwards, a collection from all periods and countries was being assembled by the Government School of Design.

By 1862, the collection was significantly increased with over 2,000 casts of decorative wood carving that had been used as examples for the craftsmen working on the new Westminster Palace.

The collection at the Victoria and Albert was conceived as being international in scope. Casts were acquired throughout the late 1800s. Many of the casts were commissioned by the Museum or purchased from European firms. 

Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger is an automaton created for Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India in 1793. The carved and painted wood represents a tiger savaging a near life-size Englishman.

The mechanisms inside the man’s bodies make one hand of the man move and emit a wailing sound from his mouth. Meanwhile, the tiger emits grunting sounds. The tiger also has a flap on the side that folds down to reveal the keyboard of a small pipe organ.

The operation of a crank handle powers several different mechanisms inside Tipu’s Tiger. A set of bellows expels air through a pipe inside the man’s throat, with its opening at his mouth.

A mechanical link causes the man’s left arm to rise and fall with a pitch that changes with the ‘wail pipe.’ Another mechanism inside the tiger’s head expels air through a single pipe with two tones. This produces a grunting sound, simulating the roar of the tiger.

Concealed behind a flap in the tiger’s body is the small ivory keyboard of a pipe organ, allowing tunes to be played.

Analysis of the materials and mechanisms indicate that the tiger was locally manufactured. The presence of French army engineers in Tipu’s court may have aided the automaton mechanisms.

Tipu’s emblem was the tiger, and the device was an expression of his enmity for the British of the East India Company.

Furniture the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London is the world’s largest museum of applied and decorative arts and design, and sculpture. The Museum houses a collection of over 2 million objects. 

In 2012, the Museum opened its first gallery to be exclusively dedicated to Furniture. Previously, furniture had been exhibited separately as part of the historical period exhibits.

Henry VIII’s Writing Desk

Henry VIII’s writing desk is portable and made in about 1525 for the King of England. It was produced by the royal workshops and is richly embellished with ornamental motifs introduced to England by continental artists.

The gilded leather lining is painted with figures and profiles similar to contemporary portrait miniatures. The figures of Mars in armor and Venus with cupid are taken from woodcuts by a German artist published in 1510.

The desk also bears the royal coat of arms and badges of Henry VIII, who reigned from 1509 to 1547 and his first queen Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536).

Similar images of allegiance were used in the decorative schemes of Henry VIII’s royal palaces. However, later Henry began divorce proceedings against Katherine in 1527.

Chinese Lacquerware Table

This carved lacquerware table is from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). It is unique in shape and decoration and is one of the most important objects at the museum from the Ming period.

It is one of the few surviving examples of furniture produced in the ‘Orchard Workshop,’ the Imperial lacquer workshop set up in the early Ming period in the ‘Forbidden City’ compound in Peking, now Beijing.

Carved lacquer was being used in all visible surfaces of pieces of furniture. This table’s top has the imperial Ming design with a central dragon and phoenix, symbolizing the Emperor and empress.

In the Ming period, the dragon became an imperial symbol, appearing on lacquer from the imperial workshops for the use of the court or the Emperor’s use.

Initially, the dragon’s head was seen in the traditional profile, but in the middle of the 15th century, the “frontal” dragon, seen looking out full-face.

Leistler Bookcase

The Leistler Bookcase was produced in 1850-51 and exhibited at the Great Exhibition 1851 in London. The bookcase was constructed by the Austrian company Carl Leistler & Sohn in Vienna, Austria

The bookcase in neo-Gothic style, carved oak, was a cathedral in wood and was presented to Queen Victoria by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and installed in Buckingham Palace for Albert, Prince Consort.

It was later moved to Holyroodhouse when it was refurbished for the royal family to stay in during their holidays in Edinburgh. 

As Palace tastes changed with time, King George V gave the bookcase to the University of Edinburgh in 1923, who, in turn, passed it on to the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Bofinger Chair

The Bofinger Stacking Chair was designed by architect and designer Helmut Bätzner in 1964. The chair was developed in close co-operation with the Bofinger company, located in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, under the owner Rudolf Baresel-Bofinger.

Helmut Bätzner’s architectural office, in conjunction with the building project for the State Theatre in Karlsruhe, developed the concept. It was intended to provide additional seating indoors as well as for outdoor use and had to be light, stackable, compact and weatherproof. 

Plastic furniture was still a new venture, and Bätzner sought advice and presented his idea to furniture manufacturer Bofinger. Bofinger became an essential supporter of the project and eventually lent his name to the chair.

The Bofinger stacking chair was developed as the first one-piece plastic chair in fiberglass- reinforced polyester to be mass-produced in one single pressing process over a steel mold.

Fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Fashion or Costume Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the most comprehensive, containing over 14,000 outfits plus accessories, mainly dating from 1600 to the present.

The collection is dominated by fashionable clothes made for special occasions. One of the more important items in the collection is the wedding suit of James II of England.

Some of the oldest items in the collection are medieval vestments. The museum continues to acquire examples with modern fashion to add to the collection.

Evening dress, 1912, by Lady Duff-Gordon

This Evening Dress is a graceful satin gown by Lady Duff Gordon in a reasonably restrained mood. The long slit skirt is an attractive feature, although its draped construction is not too revealing.

Lady Duff Gordon’s claim that she had: “loosed upon a startled London . . . draped skirts that opened to reveal the legs.”

Lady Duff-Gordon (1863 – 1935), was a leading British fashion designer centuries who worked under the professional name Lucile.

She was the first British-based designer to achieve international acclaim, she was also widely acknowledged innovator in couture styles.

Wedding suit of James II

The wedding suit of James II includes two items of an ensemble that James, the then Duke of York, wore to his wedding in 1673. It represented a new fashion in men’s wear introduced by the Duke’s older brother, Charles II.

The style came from France, where it derived from a version of a military coat made fashionable by Louis XIV.

The Duke of York married for the second time in 1673 to Mary of Modena, a fifteen-year-old Italian princess. James and Mary were married by proxy in a Roman Catholic ceremony.

When Mary arrived in England, the Bishop of Oxford, performed a brief Anglican service that did little more than recognize the marriage by proxy.

Zemire Evening Ensemble

This Zemire Evening Ensemble by Christian Dior was part of Dior’s collection in 1954-5. It is one of his most historical designs, echoing the shape of riding-habits.

A ready-to-wear version was licensed to a British company that made copies for Harrods. It sold for 22 guineas, a fraction of what a made-to-measure version would have cost.

Dior was founded in 1946 by designer Christian Dior who launched his first fashion collection for Spring–Summer 1947.

The show of “90 models of his first collection on six mannequins” was presented in the salons of the company’s headquarters.

The collection went down in fashion history as the “New Look” after the editor-in-chief of Harper’s exclaimed, “It’s such a new look!”

Butler-Bowden Cope

The Butler-Bowden Cope derives its name from the family who owned it for several centuries.

It shows scenes from the Life of the Virgin with Apostles and saints, embroidered with silver, silver-gilt thread, and silk, on luxurious crimson velvet.

The figures framed within Gothic arches are arranged in concentric rows so that they follow the curved edge and sit along the hem.

This was the base for the high-quality English embroidery called “Opus Anglicanum,” the Latin for “English work,” which was much coveted by the most influential people in Europe.

European kings and popes used luxurious clothing to make a forceful visual statement of their wealth and status.

Map for the Victoria and Albert Museum

An Introduction to the V&A

Victoria and Albert Museum

V&A (Victoria and Albert) Museum (A Virtual Tour) London 

Explore London’s Museums and Heritage Sites

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“Great events make me quiet and calm;
it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.”

– Queen Victoria

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Photo Credit: By Aqwis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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