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Unearthing the treasures of the Victoria & Albert.

by Andrea on May 26, 2010

The Victoria and Albert Museum was founded in 1852 and houses a permanent collection of a stunning 4.5 million objects (image credit below)

London Hotels Insight is lucky to have London museums expert Andrea Kirkby writing for us.  She previously shared her favourite hidden treasures of the National Gallery as well as the secrets of the British Museum.

Andrea now turns her attention to the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Victoria & Albert was set up to provide a storehouse of good examples of arts and crafts that could be used by Victorian manufacturers.

Despite its strictly functional remit, it has become a repository of great art.  But its crafts tradition means you’ll also find things here you wouldn’t see in pure art galleries – notably textiles, metalwork, and woodcarving.

The V&A is a museum you should treat as a chocolate box – wander round, find something you like and take a taste!  Here are some favourites.

•       A splendid Romanesque reliquary in the form of a domed church.  It’s marvellously gaudy, enamelled in bright green, red and white, sizzling against the golden background.  Little statues of saints guard the doors.

•       Tippoo’s Tiger.  Sultan Tippoo didn’t like the English in India much at all.  He had a sense of style and humour with a definite cruel streak.  Add this all together and you get Tippoo’s tiger, eating a red-coated English officer who screams most convincingly.  It’s perhaps not the world’s most tasteful or politically-correct automaton, but is nevertheless well worth a look.  Check out an interactive version on the official V&A website!

Tippoo’s Tiger about to tuck in! (image credit below)

•       Pete Townshend’s guitar.  It’s not a great work of art but I can’t resist putting this exhibit on the list – this Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Deluxe was smashed at one of The Who’s gigs.

•       The Ardabil Carpet is the world’s oldest carpet, made in 1539-40 and one of the greatest works of the classical Persian school.  If you only see one Persian carpet in your life, it should be this one: gloriously complex with curlicues, swirls, flowers, golden and red accents on a dark background.

•       The Walpole Cabinet.  Like many English noblemen of his day, Horace Walpole returned from the Grand Tour  burdened with souvenirs – antique cameos, coins, sculptures, gems and ivories.  He went on to become a major collector and perhaps England’s first true art historian.  This classical style cabinet was designed to show off his collection – and his good taste.

•       The Luck of Edenhall.  What a name!  It sounds like some marvellous medieval English chalice, with a family curse involved or perhaps a feud between two noble familes.  In fact, it’s a 13th century Syrian drinking glass – perhaps brought home by a Crusader.  Rich blue tendrils and golden ogee panels fill the sides of this tall, curvaceous glass cup – how amazing that it has survived all those years and all those miles unbroken.

•       Giambologna’s Samson and a Philistine. This is apparently the only monumental Giambologna statue outside Florence.  It’s certainly dramatic as Samson raises the ass’s jawbone to clout the cowering Philistine.  The curves of the bodies seem to interlock and intersect as you walk round it – there’s no front or back, as this is ‘theatre in the round’.

Two of the four Dacre Beasts (image credit below)

•       The Dacre Beasts – massive heraldic beasts carrying banners, which stood in the hall at Naworth Castle in Cumbria to glorify the Dacre family – the gryphon, the ram, the bull and the dolphin. They’re barbaric, medieval, and impressive with all the power and ferocity of the North.

•       The mysterious dark corridor full of wrought iron work, that never seems to be in quite the same place twice.  It’s everything museums shouldn’t be – gloomy, hidden away, unlit, poorly displayed – but I love it; there’s always something to find here!

What about a good hotel to stay in close to the Victoria and Albert?

We have two cosy, boutique-style hotel suggestions within walking distance, both currently in the top 40 London hotels on TripAdvisor.

The Pelham Hotel has been featured before, largely on the strength of its cosy feel, friendly staff and facilities – it has a gym for example.  Its location is ideal for the chilled-out café life and museums of South Kensington.

Check rates at the Pelham Hotel

The hospitable Pelham is very handy for the V&A

Even more intimate (with only around 30 rooms) and currently rated within TripAdvisor’s top 10 hotels is the charming Egerton House Hotel – the staff get rave reviews for their friendliness and spontaneity and it’s part of the award-winning Red Carnation Hotel Collection.  Highly recommended.

Check rates at the Egerton House Hotel

The Egerton House is also virtually round the corner from Harrods and absolutely perfect for your London shopping break.

Finally, if you liked this post you may also enjoy our look at London’s hidden museums which highlights a further nine lesser-known museum gems.

Search for a London hotel – Book Now, Pay When you Stay

Photo credits: Fmpgoh’s photostream, Kevan’s photostream, Greens n cornbread’s photostream, Egerton House Hotel, Pelham Hotel.

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