However, I’d like to finish the story of this museum by presenting some of the most unexpected pieces of art in its collection. They are scattered all over the museum, so it’s only because I went through the whole building that I discovered them.
If you visit Victoria and Albert museum, you may find other exhibits much more interesting. But it all depends on our personal preferences and what makes the visual and emotional impact upon us.
After all, art exists for us to enjoy. We can also appreciate the craftsmanship of some very talented people that lived before us.
In my opinion, of all paintings in the museum, perhaps the portrait of Sultan Mehmed II is the most intriguing. Certainly, you would expect to see it either in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul or in some museum in Italy.
Fatih Sultan Mehmed invited Gentile Bellini to the Ottoman court, to paint his portrait. Both, eastern and western art reproduced and adapted the image of this sultan that conquered Constantinople.
It’s precisely thanks to this portrait that we now know what one of the greatest Ottoman sultans looked like.
The painting of Smeralda Bandinelli by Sandro Botticelli was one more surprise. It’s one of the earliest Italian examples of the three-quarter portrait.
In his highly decorative painting, Crivelli combined modern and traditional elements. He used perspective to create spatial depth, but also the medieval technique of raised gesso (plaster) for the Virgin’s robe.
Then, there is also a portrait of Henry VIII. Perhaps, he is one of the most famous English monarchs of all time. He had six wives, two of them he decapitated – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
Additionally, in order to marry Anne Boleyn, he separated the Church of England from Vatican.
This portrait is an example of an official royal portrait established by artists from Flanders. But, we don’t know who the author of this painting was.
When you see the painting of Madame de Pompadour, you understand why the French Revolution had to happen. Her dress screams of excessive wealth while, at the same time, many French people lived in utter poverty.
Madame de Pompadour was the official mistress of King Louis XV. Boucher showed her with a book on her lap, suggesting that she had intellectual interests.
She was lucky that she lived in the period preceding the revolution. Otherwise she would’ve probably ended up the same as Marie Antoinette, on the guillotine.
Undoubtedly, it’s a magnificent Rococo painting.
You can also see many tapestries all over the museum. As a decorative feature, perhaps they have the same artistic value as paintings.
The Beauvais tapestries were commercially successful. The design and size could be adapted to suit customers’ requirements and furniture upholstery, with playful subjects and elements of fantasy.
In 1662, the tapestry workshops at Gobelins in Paris were reorganised as a Manufacture Royale.
The tapestry below is from a series featuring the biblical story of Moses’ life, based on a painting by Nicolas Poussin.
Translation of Poussin’s work into a large-scale tapestry illustrates how the fine and decorative arts complemented one another.
Sculpture, the branch of visual arts, features in the museum too. In fact, there is a big section in the museum dedicated only to sculpture. Plus, you can also see it in many other parts of the museum.
In this post, I’ll present several interesting examples. Perhaps, I could’ve taken more photos and published a separate post. But there is really no need. As I keep saying, the best is to visit the museum and see everything in real.
The striking figure of Christ is, undoubtedly, the most prominent religious image within every church. The image below comes from Italy, probably Tuscany.
St. Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles or followers of Christ. According to legend, he was flayed alive, so he is often shown holding a knife, the instrument of his martyrdom.
Unable to create flesh tones in glazes, the artist left the heads and hands of the two saints unglazed. We can identify each saint by their attributes.
St. Anthony Abbot has a pig at his feet.
St. Stephen has the stones on his head and shoulder, as he was stoned to death. In fact, he was the first Christian martyr. As a deacon, he helped the poorer members of the congregation. Here, he wears the robes of a medieval deacon that assisted priests during the Mass.
Based on the ancient Greek myth, this sculpture represents the moment after the Greek hero Theseus has killed the Minotaur – a half-man, half-bull monster.
This work, that Canova sculpted in his twenties, received universal praise. It helped established the young artist as the leading European sculptor at the time.
THE CAST COURTS
I’d say that the Cast Courts is probably the most mesmerising section of the museum. It opened in 1873 and shows copies of architecture and artworks from around the world.
The Courts, the strongest expression of the museum’s mission as a place of art education, provided examples to inspire artists, designers and artisans.
In a period when people didn’t travel very much, the Cast Courts brought art and architecture under one roof.
While you can see many wonderful pieces in this section, I’ve selected four Michelangelo’s sculptures for this post.
His David is probably the most famous sculpture in the world. The Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany gifted this life size cast to Queen Victoria.
The original sculpture is in Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy.
Michelangelo carved the figure of Moses for the tomb of Pope Julius II. It took him 30 years to complete it. Moses has horns, a traditional attribute of the Old Testament prophet and holds the tablet of the law.
He also carved six figures of slaves for the tomb of Pope Julius II. However, he gave two of the figures to a Florentine exile in France, who presented them to the French king.
The Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave are now in the Louvre museum in Paris.
Michelangelo made the original marble figure for the chapel that he designed for the Medici family. But like so many of his works, he didn’t finish it.
This cast is one of several made from moulds taken in Russia, to reproduce the highlights of the Hermitage and Kremlin collections.
This and my previous posts are just a scratch on the surface of the vast collection in this wonderful museum. I’m glad that I went back after so many years and I’ll certainly go back again.
With so many things to see, there were moments when I felt saturated and unable to process new impressions. But that’s fine. We go to museums to enjoy the moment, we don’t need to see everything in detail and remember everything that we’ve seen.
That’s also why I write posts like this one. I can always see the images again and refresh my memory.
I also hope that I can inspire some people to visit this museum. For people living in other places and unable to come to London, hopefully through these posts they’ll get an insight into the museum.