The amazing new galleries at The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Medieval and Renaissance Galleries

The spectacular new galleries at the grand old V & A are an essential view for anyone interested in, well, almost anything. Ten years in the making, these new galleries opened in December last year and now must be one of London’s most impressive venues.

They say:

‘This spectacular display will draw you back again and again’ The Times

‘A triumph’ The Daily Telegraph

Wolfie says:

Fans of the National Gallery’s Sainsbury’s Wing with its Medieval and Renaissance paintings are now spoiled by a second institution in the nation’s capital to celebrate in rich detail the glories of art betrween the end of the Roman Empire until the full flowering of the European Renaissance

If you think that a museum display of art and architecture from the this period of over a thossand years might be a bit on the dull side then you should think again.

The Museum has resigned its southwest wing and created ten new galleries dedicated a strikingly modern series of spaces to show their Medieval and Renaissance collection of more than 1,800 works of art from exquisitely tiny enameled jewellry

to the truly gigantic like this magnificently carved house frontage from a 17th Century London street.

or the equally impressive three-storey Dutch staircase which, like the London house, is given almost modern art treatment as it stands abandoned but vividly lit in the galleries glass ceilinged courtyard.

The works or art are, of course, magnificent but they gain an added dimension in the beautiful setting where light and space allow individual items to breath and to often take on a new significance after being cleaned up and removed from more familiar museum dusty dark settings.

Brilliantly lit glass cases allow details of carving on gold, ivory and ceramic to shine out at us when we get right up close and yet we can also experience a similar intimacy with large objects too. Like the complete monumental 14th. and 15th. Century altars and the wonderful carved Gothic pulpit pillars which dwarf the visitor and yet every detail can be seen with ease.

There is room too to allow you to think, at times, that you are in fact in a medieval Italian church with whole sections of original churches reassembled with altars, tombs and even walls placed in themed groupings.

Then you are taken out of that atmosphere into brilliantly lit abstraction where this plain but powerful wooden crucifix can renew its stark message free from ecclesiastical trappings.

We are in the world of the ecclesiatical for some of the time, of course but the exhibition is not restricted to the legacy of the princes of the church. Palatial, civic, military and domestic art is there in abundance and there is, in fact, much too much here to see in one visit. You could spend an entire trip, for instance, just looking at the detail in this massive wall tapestry with its vibrant scenes of bear and boar hunting.

The use of space, lighting and design is worth a visit itself but, importantly, the labelling too has cleverly free from bombast. It is clear and intelligible to anyone without previous knowledge of this golden period of European art and it also avoids accusations of irritating dumbing down.

The masterly Perugino altar piece of the Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome and Francis comes across as if it was newly painted without any of the over-awed comentaries that some other museums inflict on first time viewers. We are encouraged to enjoy each piece without any hint of elitist cultural baggage.

Therefore this beautiful piece of Medieval German stained glass, back-lit and set into a plain wall loses its churchy connotations and becomes a work of art in its own right so that we can sympathise with Moses’ sore feet when God appears to him from that Burning Bush.

You too might have sore feet if you do the whole tour in one go but I solved that problem by going on from the Museum to Gessler’s, an excellent Polish restaurant just down the road for a long lingering lunch of stewed goose stomach, breaded pork and a cream cheese pancake with cranberries with an excellent red Polish wine. Delicious – no need to eat for a week now.

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