on December 24, 2008
Like most museums in London The Victoria and Albert museum is free apart from special displays that incur a charge. In effect it is the permanent version of the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. Queen Victoria laid its foundation stone in 1899 and from the start the V&A has had an important role as a research institution. The museum showcases the applied arts of all disciplines, all periods, all nationalities, and all tastes and has become the greatest decorative-arts museum in the world.We could think of no better place to spend a rainy day in London. We alighted at South Kensington tube station and followed a long titled tunnel leading to the V&A and the other museums in the area.We received a floors plan at the entrances to help us navigate the seven-mile, four-storey maze of halls and corridors. The museum’s offers hourly free introductory talks but we decided just to wander and to use the floor plan only when lost. We meandered through levels 0 where we entered and level 1, which leaves scope for many more visits.Level 0 contains the collection from Europe 1600-1800. These galleries begin with displays of extravagant objects from the 1600s. They continue with an exploration of Baroque from France, Italy and Spain. Highlights include an altar made of amber and ivory, Italian silk embroidered wall hangings and terracotta sketch models by the sculptor Bernini. Each object displayed is in context often with a partial room formed around it with colours chosen to show it off to best effect.A highlight of the 16th-century Renaissance Italy collection is the marble Neptune with Triton by Bernini, and the cartoons by Raphael created as designs for tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.The museum has the greatest collection of Indian art outside India, plus Chinese and Japanese galleries. In complete contrast are suites of English furniture, metalwork, and ceramics and the national collection of paintings by Constable. The Dress Collection includes a collection of corsets through the ages that's sure to make women wince. There's also an extraordinary collection of musical instruments. A most unusual, huge, and impressive exhibit is the Cast Courts containing life-size plaster models of ancient and medieval statuary and architecture. With so many cultures displayed it becomes clear how like a relay race the progress of the world has been. A nation will go through a rapid stage of development falter and then another nation picks up the baton and runs with it. European culture was slow to pick up the baton. While it was in the dark ages nations under Islam influences were powering ahead. It was only on the capture of their libraries and knowledge the West started to race ahead. Nations have taken it in turn to carry the baton. Will it return to China or India? Certainly they are challenging the current baton holders.The museum is thought provocating and where else can you see such an amazing collection of ceramics, furniture, fashion, glass, jewellery, metalwork, photographs, sculpture, textiles and paintings? The V&A is home to 3000 years' worth of artefacts from many of the world's richest cultures and is the world’s greatest museum for art and design.
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