Victoria & Albert Museum
The V & A is the capital’s treasure-house of beautiful things from all around the world: a must-visit for anyone coming to London. Its first Director, Sir Henry Cole, described it ‘a refuge for destitute collections’ in the 1850s. More than a century later his successor Sir Roy Strong called it ‘an extremely capacious handbag’!
The Museum was established in 1852, following the enormous success of the previous year’s Great Exhibition to make works of art available to all, to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers. It is now the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects, covering 50,000 m2 and containing 145 galleries. It is full of beautiful and fascinating things to see and I can help you make the most of your time there to show you either the ‘edited highlights’ or a themed tour of particular periods, regions or types of art that interest you.
Among the treasures you can choose to see from ancient times to the present day are the world’s largest collection of post-classical sculpture; the largest holding of Italian Renaissance outside Italy; one of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the Western world and magnificent holdings from South and East Asia, China, Japan and Korea. Among the museum’s particular curiosities are the first commercially produced Christmas card (invented in 1843 by the Museum’s first Director, Henry Cole); the world’s oldest dated carpet; the earliest surviving wedding suit, a young man’s shirt dating from 1540 and the skirt (petticoat) on a court mantua which is almost 8 feet (2.38 m) wide.
Among the quirky stories associated with the Museum is that of Queen Victoria’s shock at the nudity of a full-size cast of Michelangelo’s ‘David’. A suitably proportioned fig leaf was made, and hung on the figure using a pair of hooks when dignitaries visited. Today, the fig leaf is no longer used.
Join me on a journey through this fascinating building, where every corner and turn holds a new surprise and delight. And why not add a visit to the V&A’s ‘satellite, the Museum of Childhood in London’s East End?