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The Victoria & Albert Museum – also known as the V&A – is London’s museum of art and design.
It was established in 1852 using profits from the Great Exhibition. It combined all the work from the old School of Design and Museum of Manufactures, and lumped it into the big Brompton Boilers building.
By the turn of the century the eclectic collection had grown so large and cumbersome that a better building was commissioned by Queen Victoria.
The highlight in the Medieval Treasury is the Becket Casket. This was created by the Limoges Enamellers in 1180 and depicts the death of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. It comes complete with a scrap of blood-stained cloth – supposedly worn by Becket himself at the moment of death.
The Raphael Cartoons were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515, in preparation for the tapestries that hang upon the Sistine Chapel. They were purchased by the future Charles I in 1623.
The Cast Rooms are particularly impressive – two-stories high and filled with reproductions of every famous statue known to man. All of the casts are life-size and look identical to the originals.
Highlights include the Trajan’s Column in Rome, the Portico de la Gloria, from Santiago de Compostela, and Michelangelo’s David. Also on display is the world-famous Three Graces, by Antonio Canova.
The Nehru Gallery of Indian Art has everything from fine Asian paintings and white jade cups, to 17th-century thumb rings from Shah Jehan (builder of the Taj Mahal). There is also the world-famous Tipoo Tiger – also known as the Tiger of Mysore. This life-size sculpture of a tiger eating a man comes complete with growls and screams from a hidden music box.
There is also a 9-foot porcelain model of a Chinese pagoda – only one of ten that have survived to the modern day.
All of the Indian art at the V&A comes from the old Indian Museum in Exhibition Road. This was demolished in 1956 and spread amongst the institutions.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has a fine collection of British art from Gainsborough, Constable and J W Turner, to Landseer, Etty and Reynolds.
The Dress Collection traces the entire history of fashion from our distant forbears to modern-day flares. You can see Elizabethan ball-gowns and Victorian skirts, to flower-power hippy gear straight from the sixties. Clothes plucked from the catwalks in Milan stand side-by-side with royal robes from the 18th-century.
Fashion designers from the past and present all get a look-in – from post-war Dior, to Versace and Chanel.
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