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Furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Famous Furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Famous Furniture at 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.

The furniture collection covers Europe and America from the Middle Ages to the present, plus a sizeable British collection.

One of the oldest items is a chair leg from Egypt dated to 200 AD.  One of the oldest clocks in the collection is an astronomical clock from 1588.

The Furniture and Woodwork collection also includes complete rooms, musical instruments, and clocks. The Museum also hosts the national collection of wallpaper. 

The famous collections range from Italian and French Renaissance objects to Art Nouveau and innovative modern furniture.

Furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

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Chinese Lacquerware Table

Famous Furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

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.

The Ming dynasty was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644. The Ming dynasty was also the last imperial dynasty of China ruled by the Han Chinese.

The ground of the table-top relief was initially yellow, which contrasted with the red of the upper layers, but it has now faded to a dark color.

The legs and edges of the top are carved with the “Flowers of the Four Seasons.” The insides of the drawers are in plain red lacquer and the outsides and underside of the table in black lacquer.

The table bears the mark of the reign of the Xuande Emperor (1426–1435) and was made for the Imperial Palace.

The five-clawed dragons carved on the surface has been mutilated by the removal of one claw on each foot, as was often done when pieces left imperial ownership.

The five-clawed dragon was only allowed to be used by the Emperor, with very severe penalties for abuse. 

Imperial pieces were sometimes given as gifts or taken by the court eunuchs to be sold at markets outside the Forbidden City.

Chinese Lacquerware Table

  • Title:                  Chinese Lacquerware Table
  • Date:                 1425
  • Origin:               Peking, now Beijing
  • Materials:          Carved lacquer on wood, brass fittings
  • Dimensions:      Table-top -119.5 cm by 84.5 cm; Height 79.2 cm
  • Category:         Furniture 
  • Museum:           Victoria and Albert Museum

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Leistler Bookcase

Historic Furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

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

Leistler’s exhibits were described as:

“massive, bold and masculine in design, and well adapted to a palace.”

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.

Leistler Bookcase

  • Title:                   Leistler Bookcase
  • Artist:                  Bernardis, Bernardo di, (1807 – 1868) – designer
    •                   Fernkorn, Anton Dominik, (1813 – 1878) – sculptor
    •                   Carl Leistler & Son – maker
  • Date:                  1850
  • Origin:                Vienna
  • Materials:           Carved oak
  • Dimensions:       Height: 431.8 cm, Width: 581.7 cm, Depth: 171.5 cm
  • Category:         Furniture 
  • Museum:           Victoria and Albert Museum

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Why do some call this table seductive?

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“I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture.”
– William Shakespeare

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Photo Credit: Gryffindor / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0); The original uploader was VAwebteam at English Wikipedia. / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/); Gryffindor / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0); Sandstein / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

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