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Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Victoria & Albert Museum review. If you enjoy the V&A then definitely try the Wallace Collection because their collection is just as eclectic. The Queen’s Gallery is worth a try (but it focuses much more on the art). The best art galleries for classical art are the National Gallery, Courtauld Gallery and Tate Britain.
The Victoria & Albert Museum (also known as the V&A) was established in 1852 as the country’s leading museum of art and design.
It gathered together all of the works inside the old School of Design and Museum of Manufactures, and transferred them to big Brompton Boilers building.
By the turn of the century its eclectic collection had grown so large and cumbersome that a better building was commissioned by Queen Victoria in South Kensington.
One of the many highlights 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. You can even see a piece of blood-stained cloth – supposedly worn by Becket himself.
The famous Cast Room contains plaster and concrete reproductions of many of the world’s best known statues and monuments.
Highlights include the Trajan’s Column from Rome, the Portico de la Gloria from Santiago de Compostela, Michelangelo’s David, and the beautiful Three Graces by Antonio Canova.
The pride of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s art collection are the Raphael Cartoons. These were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 as preparatory studies for the tapestries inside the Sistine Chapel. They were then purchased by the future Charles I in 1623.
The V&A also has a fine collection of British art that rivals the artworks in Tate Britain. They have a gallery full of Gainsboroughs, Constables and J W Turners, plus works by Landseer, Etty and Reynolds.
The Nehru Gallery of Indian Art contains everything from fine Asian paintings and white jade cups, to 17th-century thumb rings from Shah Jehan (the builder of the Taj Mahal). You can also see the intriguing Tipoo Tiger. This life-size sculpture of a tiger eating a man comes complete with a hidden music box which plays the gruesome growls and screams of the victim.
Another highlight is a nine-foot porcelain model of a Chinese pagoda – one of only ten such models to have survived to the present day.
The Dress Collection traces the history of fashion from our distant forbears, to modern-day flares. You can see everything from Elizabethan ball-gowns and Victorian skirts, to flower-power hippy gear straight from the 1960s. Clothes from the catwalks of Paris and Milan are shown side-by-side with British royal robes from the 18th-century.
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If you enjoy this then try: Geffrye Museum (catch the tube from South Kensington to Geffrye Museum); Queen’s Gallery (walk it in 28 mins or catch a train from South Kensington to Queen’s Gallery); Tate Britain (catch the tube from South Kensington to Tate Britain) and Wallace Collection (catch the tube from South Kensington to Wallace Collection).