I unexpectedly found myself with an afternoon free in London today. So I decided to head towards the Victoria and Albert museum. I find Museum spaces and galleries very tranquil places they recharge mental fatigue and excite the geek in me.
Unlike thousand of others queuing in the ticket line I had no interest in Ziggy Star Dust as I am happy to say I AM TOO YOUNG (just). I was happy to head to the Treasures of the Royal Courts Exhibition. Thanks to my trusty Art Fund Card it was half price always a nice bonus!
The last exhibition I went to was the Pompeii exhibition during half term when it was RAMMED! It was certainly very pleasant to enter the exhibition and be able to move around freely. I opted out of the audio guide; this looking back may have been a mistake.
When entering the space you are greeted by four beasts real and mythical holding flags as they have been part of the royal standards. They are stunning examples of the imagery conquered up of majesty and monarchy. Beyond these fine beasts my favourite being the griffin, you see a selection of armour including one of the many suits that belonged to Henry VIII. The MetropolitanMuseum in New York, The White Tower in the Tower of London and WindsorCastle also have suits that belong to the infamous Tudor king, this set was loaned to the exhibition by the Royal Armoury in Greenwich.
To the right of the amour there is an impressive set of medallions the biggest golden one was minted to remember the marriage of Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) to Philip II of Spain. It is looks like the stuff you would find in pirates chest. The wall is then lined with portraits of the Tudors from a sickly looking Henry VII, his son and grand children before being confronted with a case full of jewels, that was frustratingly busy. Amongst the pieces there was a stunning pendant of a pelican with a ruby, miniatures of Elizabeth later mounted in pearls and rubies and a stunning ring made after the execution of Charles I with his likeness on; that would have been worn by his supporters.
The next room was held a large portrait of Elizabeth I at its entrance. The image is of a young queen Elizabeth dressed in red that would have been used to show perspective husbands, however the image changed its name as she never married and was known through history as the Virgin Queen.
Next to her portrait was the handsome picture of Robert Dudley, the rumoured love of Elizabeth’s life. He was a dashing, if pompus looking man elegantly dressed in white. In the centre of the space was a case holding various gold and silver plate. This is were I felt I would have benefited from an audio guide, I bored easily and found the blurbs too long to finish especially as the other cases held more interesting objects.
Also in this room was a first edition folio of Shakespeare a beautiful and rare treasure. On the wall further up was an image of Robert Deveurex a rake and short time court favourite to Elizabeth I. He was the adopted son of Robert Dudley and the second Earl of Essex; however he lost his head in 1601 when he failed in a rebellion against the aged Elizabeth I. He was also not as handsome as his adopted father. (in my opinion)
The case on the right hand wall contained clothing. The detailing in the clothes were stunning and the sizes were small in comparison to modern sizes. The female jacket was so detailed in its embroidered plant motifs. The ruff with its tailoring that gave the collar have its distinctive wave (used to draw eyes to the wears face) was elegant. However it was the gloves of James I with their slender long fingers and hand, effeminate look complete with lace cuff that in my eyes summed him up! (yes I know it was the fashion of the day but still SAYS A LOT!)
Then we move around the other side of the room and see wonderful images of James I and Charles I. We then see a miniature coach that was sent to Russia. This is were I would like to make my biggest gripe: maybe it was because there isn’t much left of the Tsars thanks to the Russian Revolution in 1917, or St Petersburg and Moscow refused to loan any thing or maybe I missed the Russian stuff as I did not have the audio guide but there was a as far as I was concerned not enough Tsar items to warrant them to be added to the title of the exhibition. There were images at the end of the second room and while queuing for the jewel case there was a picture. Maybe more of the plate was Russian but for me the Tsars were not screaming out look at my treasures.
In to the last room of the exhibition. This is the second gripe: this was not a big exhibition. 3 small rooms, that is all. If I had travelled from a different part of the country to see this exhibition especially I would have been disappointed not to mention if I had paid full price. Although well put together it just was not enough.
Anyway in the third room you are greeted by a stuffed pelican given to the restored Charles II from the Russians. These birds were allowed to live freely in St James Park and their decedents still live there today. Up close they are a strange creature and John Evelyn is correct when he describes them as a crossed between “a swan and a stork” clearly they were so loved they were stuffed when they died.
In this room there was more silver however I was quite taken by the Mermaid and her shell (ewer and basin) the mermaid is very comely and the shell reminded me of Botticelli’s Venus on of my favourite pictures. Also I have to say I prefer silver to gold.
All in all I found the exhibition was full of things that were very pretty, that humanised the people from the history pages showing what they looked like, what they wore, what they used to make themselves pretty and what they used day today; however I found I was wanting more. True there is a early modern English gallery in the V&A a gallery I have often visited however I felt that would have been happy to see a bigger exhibition and would have liked to have known more about the Russian monarchs as they had a billing. I would say that the Tudor and Stuart geek part of me loved it. Please sir can I have some more!