The works kept by the Victoria and Albert Museum that leave its attendees amazed

The works kept by the Victoria and Albert Museum that leave its attendees amazed
The works kept by the Victoria and Albert Museum that leave its attendees amazed

Even for someone who loves to get lost in museums, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London can seem overwhelming: 5 thousand years of artistic production with more than 60 thousand works on display (from a collection of about 2.8 million) in some 150 galleries under approximately 8 hectares of roof.

The V&A attracts around 3 million visitors a year, but even on busiest days there is space to avoid crowds. Visiting the permanent collection is free (some exhibits cost up to 20 pounds, or about $25), and it’s easy to spend a whole day there.

The museum is a collection of exemplary works, from exquisite Raphael drawings to psychedelic plastic radios from the 1970s; from colorful Islamic tiles to majestic English beds.

The museum was the beloved project of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, who had seen firsthand that British manufactured goods were not always the best in their class. By displaying applied arts (textiles, ceramics, glass, and other manufactured objects) alongside fine art, the new museum would democratize aesthetic appreciation and inspire better designs for better products.

Originally known as the South Kensington Museum, the V&A opened in 1857 in temporary structures while new buildings were constructed. The museum included libraries and schools of science and art, including one for women. Leading artists of the time, such as Frederic Leighton and William Morris, contributed to its decoration. It welcomed modernity to such a degree that the first photography exhibition in a museum in the world was held there in 1858.

Although Prince Albert died in 1861, the museum continued to expand. In 1899, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for a grand new entrance wing and renamed the complex the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The V&A’s pioneering spirit has not faded. It features fashion hits, such as “Naomi: In Fashion,” which pays tribute to model Naomi Campbell and will open June 22. And its outreach programs, studio classes and parties attract audiences. The V&A’s reach has been growing recently, with branches such as a child-oriented Young V&A and two new museum buildings – one with almost 250,000 works – due to open in east London in 2025.

In the Empty Rooms of the V&A, three huge galleries are filled with life-size reproductions – cast in plaster and metal – of sculptures and fragments of buildings from across Europe. Accurate copies of medieval tombs occupy the floor, while masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s David and Trajan’s Column rise to the ceiling.

In such an extensive museum, there is no single logical, or even chronological, path to follow. For many, that’s part of the appeal of the V&A: the extravagant juxtapositions you find as you walk through its six floors.

For example, on the fourth floor, it seems as if virtually everything ever made of clay or porcelain—Ming, majolica, Meissen—is on display. The third floor features international glass in all its facets. And on the second floor, a network of long galleries offers religious stained glass, small-scale bronze sculptures, English paintings and drawings, as well as gobelins.

The Center of Photography, also located on the second floor, recently expanded its galleries to become the largest photography exhibition center in Britain.

Some two dozen British galleries tell the story of the Country, from the Tudors to the Victorians, through paintings, furniture, clothing, musical instruments, textiles and fabulous beds, including the Great Ware Bed, a four-poster bed built in 1590 for an inn. It measures about 3 meters per side and supposedly has capacity for four couples. Centuries-old graffiti covers virtually every table and deserved a mention in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

The most extraordinary works are displayed in a cathedral-like space: Raphael’s famous caricatures for the gobelins that were created to adorn the Sistine Chapel in 1515-16. Commissioned by Pope Leo X, Raphael painted the designs on paper as a guide for loom weavers to follow.

Now owned by King Charles III and considered among the greatest works of Renaissance art, they were created as part of a manufacturing process, so it seems entirely appropriate that they are on loan at the V&A, where fine art and manufacturing go hand in hand. hand.

 
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