Victoria and Albert Museum

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Things to do


Date of travel

November, 2016

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Would she? Well, the young Victoria might well have been amused, especially if Albert of the gilt-painted memorial statue were with her.

The museum named after them has in my view remained true to Albert’s vision of the best displays that British ingenuity can provide. It sold out the David Bowie costume exhibition last year and is heavily subscribed for both Opus Anglicanum, a celebration of medieval needlework (and the export drive) and the music and imagery of the 1960s. We were mesmerised by Opus Anglicanum but didn’t have tickets for the revolutionary sixties so made do with a Glastonbury celebration and the designs for theatre and the cinema nearby. Both were brilliant and show aspects of the revolutionary spirit at the same time.

Opus Anglicanum is one of those exhibitions where photography is understandably prohibited. The delicate fabrics are worn and cannot be risked further. The wear on several of them allows the drawing beneath the stitchwork to be seen. There are also examples of earlier work where the backing allows a higher quality of needlework than on later, surface-stitched designs. Much is ecclesiastical but some is courtly and heraldic, occasionally poached from altar hangings or vestments. This move from religious to heraldic is exemplified in the surprising fact that the court armourer was often a needleworker. Examples from as far south as Italy and as far north as Iceland show the extent of desire for English needlework in those days. An image of the poster has to serve in lieu of photos to support these points. The exhibition continues for a good few weeks yet, and is well worth going to see.

Glastonbury has never been our thing, any more than Proms in the Park though that is our kind of music, it’s the rain and muddy conditions that put us off. Indoors, however, and a thumping beat with equally outrageous images set us rocking with the youngest. We had a tent with projected images for former or would-be flower power people to lie down and gaze or perhaps freak out, and costumes and stage sets to enjoy, leading us into the theatrical and film display. What riches there were! Hollywood dance costumes including Fred Astaire’s white tie and tails, posters for performances and the rhinoceros from Ionesco’s revolutionary play of the 1960s that could have been in the pop music exhibition.

Design and the Glastonbury scene are just two of the free exhibits at the V&A: the wonderful Islamic room that we have spent time on previously was not for this visit but a couple of images from other public galleries will serve to give a flavour of what else can be enjoyed. It is one of the national treasure houses and is deservedly popular.


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