Surprised by the Victoria and Albert Museum

Amid all of London’s amazing (and free!) museums, it may be easy to overlook the Victoria and Albert Museum – in fact we almost did. Luckily, we decided to pop in for an hour, as it was free and close to our hotel, and we were completely surprised by it’s ability to offer something unique and different when compared to many of the more traditional and famous museums in the area.
The facade of the V&A (via)
The beautiful glass sculpture in the lobby
A grand piano in the paintings hall
A great example of Chinese sculpture
Walking in, we only knew that the museum’s displays are focused on art and design. But this only begins to describe the treasures it holds, and from the moment we entered the beautiful Victorian building to the moment we left, we were surprised and impressed with what uncovered around every corner.

A screen from a home in the ancient Middle East
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Victoria and Albert Museum lies in it’s laid out. Pieces are grouped into categories (Fashion, Art, Metalwork, Sculpture, Architecture, Painting…) and then displayed by period, which allows visitors the unique opportunity to compare similar trends within an era of time. This provided a stark contrast to the many museums we visited prior that display their items by civilization or origin (Egyptian, Roman, Middle Eastern…). This layout also allowed us to compare and contrast many of the different trends in far reaching areas of the world at a single time in history. As a result, delicate hand-sewn shoes worn in Europe reside next to two-toed socks worn with sandals in Asia dating to the same time period, while a nearby case holds an arrangement of glistening jewels showcasing some of Marie Antoinette’s incredible rings and pendants, as well as those worn by her counterparts during the same period in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Medieval wooden sculpture
Beautiful stained glass

The Victoria and Albert Museum houses a permanent display of over 4.5 million pieces and is sure to offer something for everyone in your party. While we thoroughly enjoyed many of the displays, Calli was particularly fond of the costume collection featuring designer outfits and accessories from the 1600s to present day. It was amazing to see the many layers of undergarments and petticoats that went into the outfits of the 17th century and see how drastically the styles changed as we circled the room. To demonstrate the fashion trends, the displays incorporate many runway pieces from famous design houses including Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, and Valentino.

1960s style
Sex Pistols-inspired punk style
Some articles from Christian Dior

Another section of the museum we found fascinating was the architecture displays. Containing building elements such as the two top stories of the facade of the Sir Paul Pindar house, a survivor of the Great Fire of London that dates to the 1600s, and an almost intact Renaissance chapel from Santa Chiara, Florence, it’s impossible to not be impressed.

The top two stories of the Paul Pindar House (via)

For those that love art, a wonderful collection of paintings from the  likes of Constable, Turner, and even Raphael await. Like sculpture instead – you’re in luck as works from Bernini, Canova, Rodin, and many others await. And best of all, you can enjoy them in relative peace (when compared to the National Gallery or TATE) as the V&A is much less busy than many of London’s other museums.

Whatever you like in museums, you are sure to find something that you like in the Victoria and Albert Museum – and probably something you didn’t even know you like as well.

As with the majority of the free museums in London, you do have to pay for some of the temporary exhibits if you want to see them. To check out what’s on when you are there, you can visit their website here.

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