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Victoria & Albert Museum


This wonderful free Museum, conveniently located within walking distance from my office and placing an emphasis on "everyday" objects over archeological treasures, became one of my favorites. After a couple of visits where I tried to find my way, by using the Museum map, to particular exhibits, I finally learned that the best way to experience this place is just to wander. On my first visit, my major aim was the clothing gallery, but I ended up being much more impressed with the jewelery. The next visit was much more intensive, and although I couldn't find the musical instruments I wanted to see, while trying to find the jewelery again Joan and I found an amazing hall of silver pieces that blew us away. Plus a room full of lace! I finally found the musical instruments on my third try, but was also completely charmed by china and teapots. And on the final visit, time required me to be limited to a paid exhibit that I'd been wanting to see, and the gift shop for Christmas presents, although I longed to do some more rambling. These links are to my blog posts, which give my on-the-spot impressions. And remember, the photos on this page are just a sample of those we took at the V&A—many more can be viewed in this Flickr set.
The visual splendor, and often just plain quirkiness, of the artifacts, is reason enough to visit the Museum. But their display, with informational signs giving more detail than you'd think possible for, say, a teapot or a set of earrings, is so well done that you can find yourself learning more European (and a little Asian) history, cultural and otherwise, than you would ever expect. Fortunately for non-London residents, their website contains a lot of this fascinating historical material, too, as well as photos of many pieces. You can search their online collections, or explore them via various topical areas, such as periods, materials, and places.

Here's a shot of that mile-long (at least it seemed that big) hall absolutely stuffed with amazing pieces of silver like the monstrance at the right. Who knows how they keep all that stuff shined up but it sure was sparkly!

Silver Hall panorama silver monstrance

And that long-sought musical instruments gallery was worth the wait. What an amazing (it's hard not to over-use that word) collection of odd and beautiful, as well as ordinary and beautiful, instruments. They don't have a display of smashed instruments, however. On the left below is a photo of the clever ceiling of the instrument gallery, as seen from the floor above. (Not that it's easy to find your way to the gallery from there.) On the right is a hurdy-gurdy that was in the collection I finally found. The clavichord, on the bottom, was in a special exhibit of miscellaneous European objects in the Museum's basement.

looking down at instruments gallery

One of the most famous sections of the Museum is the Cast Courts. This is a bizarre collection of replicas of famous statues and monuments. In the nineteenth century this was a common way of letting people who couldn't afford to make the Grand Tour still see the sights and study the art. Learn more of this odd Victorian practice, and see more of these galleries, here on the Museum's website. Looking at these photos, the one on the left was taken on the floor of the Court, while the one on the right was taken from a mezzanine looking down at it. Rather impressive replicas, wouldn't you say? The photo at the bottom is a detail from one of my favorite objects in the room, a large relief.

Cast Courts
Cast Courts from above
detail from Cast Court sculpture

You can get an idea of the variety of objects on display at the Museum from this assortment. See more sculpture examples on the Museum's website here, and see more about their ceramics collection here.

Greek sculpture replica
beaded vase

More variety, and favorites of mine: the wooden sculpture of St. George and the dragon, a particularly lovely backgammon board, and a graceful example of wrought-iron work. (One of an entire gallery of wrought-iron, of course!)

St. George wooden sculpture
backgammon board
wrought iron

Of course the exhibits in all their quirky variety are what makes the V&A, but the building itself is pretty cool as well. I have Henry to thank for these exterior shots as I took none. Here is a view of its dome from street level on the left and a section of the building seen from the central courtyard on the right.

V&A building V&A courtyard
The main lobby has a couple of awesome sculptures. On the left you can see what's under that dome: a Chihuly, of all things, very similar to the one in the San Antonio Public Library, Central Branch! On the right is a shot of a gorgeous fiber optic sculpture that looks different from every angle as your position changes.
Chilhuily sculpture
fiber optic sculpture
You definitely know you're entering someplace special, whether you choose the V&A's cathedral-like main entranceway, on the left, or if you're entitled to use one of the delivery entrances, whose gate is on the right. Either way, when you get inside, it's like being in wonderland!
V&A main entrance V&A gate

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