Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum (hereafter VAM) began in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures. In 1899 Queen Victoria renamed it in honor of Prince Albert. It has a very large collection and a very large wading pool in the courtyard.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Courtyard

We ordered a lunch from the cafe and ate it in the courtyard. J and L then wanted to splash around in the wading pool (which is allowed), though L soon became too immersed in it.


She wound up wearing Mommy's sweater as a dress for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, I had a chance to explore the various exhibits and works of art.

Neptune and Triton is a sculpture from 1622 by Bernini. It was commissioned in Rome and water flowed from Triton's conch shell into a fish pond. Triton is Neptune's son and a merman, which makes sense if your dad is the god of the sea. It was sold in 1786 and was brought to England, eventually landing in the VAM collection.

Neptune and Triton, Bernini 1662

Theseus and the Minotaur was made by Antonio Canova in 1782. Here Theseus has just killed the Minotaur. You can see from the side view the thread that Theseus uses to find his way back out of the labyrinth.

Theseus and the Minotaur, front view, Canova 1782

Side view

Caesar Invading Britain was completed by John Deare in 1796. It shows a brief moment when the Britons were successful in repelling the Roman invaders. The Latin text reads, "This one thing was lacking to complete Caesar's customary success." The work was commissioned by John Penn, a British patriot who also supported the American Revolution which brings a nice further meaning to the piece.

Caesar Invading Britain, Deare 1796 (click to enlarge)

This tile work from the Tomb of Buyanquli Khan at Bukhara in Uzbekistan dates from the late 1300s. He was a descendant of Genghis Khan and thus merited a fantastic tomb. The whole mausoleum was covered with tiles like this.

Tile from the Tomb of Buyanquli Khan

A minbar is a pulpit in a mosque used for sermons during the Friday midday prayer. This minbar comes from Egypt and dates back to the late 1400s.

Minbar circa late 1400s

The tile chimney piece dates from 1731 and comes from Turkey, probably Istanbul. The names on the hood are the Seven Sleepers, men who retreated to a cave during Roman emperor Decius's persecution. They awoke centuries later to discover that Christianity had taken over. The Qur'an mentions them as an example of how God protects the righteous.

Chimney piece circa 1730s

These blue bowls were made in Iznik in Anatolia, where the potters imitated the famous blue and white porcelain from China. As their popularity grew, they began making larger and more colorful works.

Iznik bowls

The roundels in the medieval gallery show various coats of arms. These were hung outside homes to identify the owners. Occasionally saints were depicted to show the residents' piety or their patrons.

Roundels in the medieval gallery

Rest of the medieval gallery


An amazing sculpture

The Brixen Altarpiece from 1500-1510 shows the Virgin Mary flanked by St. Florian and John the Baptist (holding the Lamb of God!). Below are painted St. Dorothy and St. Catherine of Alexandria. The doors would open to reveal the relics for the altar.

Brixen Altarpiece circa 1500s

The Saint Bartholomew statue is from Florence around 1500. It probably adorned an altar or was part of a set of Jesus's twelve apostles. There's something spooky about his eyes.

St. Bartholomew

This staircase is from a tall townhouse in Brittany, France, built in the 1520s. Some wooden houses there still survive today!

A staircase to nowhere!

This plaster cast is of an Irish cross from the monastery at Monasterboice. It has scenes from the Old and New Testaments as well as signs of the zodiac and other symbols. It was carved in the early 900s to commemorate Abbot Muiredach who died in 923.

Monasterboice Cross front

Monasterboice Cross, back

The room the cross was in was packed with items from various times, almost like an art warehouse!

A full room

This lion caught my eye

The Lamentation over the Dead Christ dates from the 1510s in Florence. The figures are made of terracotta, which is difficult with large subjects. Each figure was made separately and Mary Magdalen (on the right) was damaged on the first firing. That explains why she is painted rather than glazed like the other statues. Glazing required an additional firing that would not have been possible.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ, circa 1510

There's certainly far too much to see in one day, but it is an excellent museum, not the least because it provides some fun for children as well as fine art for adults.

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