on August 8, 2012
In my mind at least, the Victoria and Albert Museum has always suffered from its less than revealing name. Unlike the neighbouring Science or Natural History Museums, it is difficult to imagine exactly what is inside from the name alone. For this rather shallow reason, I was not particularly enthralled about paying it a visit when my girlfriend and I headed to Kensington to sample some museum action. However, thanks to her persistence, I was rewarded with an absolute treat.My first question when we entered the museum was, "What does it actually contain?". I was pretty sure it was not just a memorial to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – although I am sure such a museum would be extremely interesting in itself. Once I picked up a map, I soon discovered it had a whole range of collections on offer spread out over four floors. These ranged from displays of English art and jewellery through displays on British history and into displays on world history.We began by perusing the exhibit on Britain during the Civil War and Restoration. This was never a period that I had found particularly enchanting – I have always seemingly gravitated towards Britain's age of Empire in the 19th century – yet I was absolutely gripped. It had some wonderful displays that detailed both the Royalists and Parliamentarians and featured immense detail that really allowed the visitor to see deep into the period. There were recreations of rooms, fantastic displays of clothing and some wonderful illustrations. From there we decided to move onto the display of British jewellery – more my girlfriend's choice that mine if I am honest – but were side-tracked en-route by an absolutely marvellous display of religious sculpture. Apparently, in the nineteenth century, the museum re-created some of the most dramatic sculpture from churches around Europe to enable to local population to witness their beauty. I am not sure how the idea worked at the time, but I thought it was absolutely wonderful and stood transfixed for a good ten minutes. Once we eventually got to the jewellery room we – and by 'we' I mean my girlfriend – were not disappointed. The display was magnificent. There were scores of different pieces housed in giant glass cases. The sheer scale of the display belied the delicacy of the pieces involved. The one aspect of the museum that I felt let it down a little was it's displays of Asian artefacts. Those in the Islamic and Middle East section were beautiful and very well displayed. However, the Japanese and Chinese sections were rather lacking in originality. There was the odd vase and some calligraphy thrown in, but nothing that really demanded attention. The Korean section was so small it was housed in a corridor between two other rooms. The Asian section notwithstanding, the Victoria and Albert Museum was by far the best museum we visited in London. It took and old school approach by simply displaying the artefacts it had on show, but this was more than enough as the sheer weight of the pieces was almost too much for the visitor. We spent a fantastic two hours in there and could have remained for hours more. It was an absolute delight.
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