Page 86 - Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Winter Spring 2012/13

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uppose someone offered you an opportunity to stand before the
statue of Michelangelo’s David that lives in the Accademia di
Belle Art in Florence, Italy? Or visit the twelfth century portal of
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain, the Bernward Doors
that grace Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Hildesheim, Germany, and
numerous other monuments of Europe? Not just on one trip, but in one hour.
“Impossible!” you would say.
But yes, it is possible, and no, the journey would not involve fantasy or
science fiction. Such an improbable goal could be accomplished by visiting just
one place: the breathtaking Cast Courts in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum
Billing itself as “the world’s greatest museum of design and art,” the V&A,
which is indeed the largest decorative arts museum on the planet, has its roots in
London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition
after the specially built structure in which it was held, the endeavor was such a
financial success that when it officially closed in October of that year, some of
the surplus was used to found the Museum of Manufactures, the forerunner of
today’s V&A.
The indefatigable Henry Cole (1808-1882), who had been integral to the
planning of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (with the strong patronage of Queen
Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert), served as the new museum’s first director. He
chose several exhibits, including art and architectural casts, to be purchased from
the Crystal Palace exhibition to form the nucleus of the museum collection.
First installed at Marlborough House, the Museum of Manufacture was
shortly transferred to Somerset House, where it remained for only a few short
years. By 1854 it was decided to move the collection and name it for its new
location – South Kensington Museum. Although it was officially opened by
Queen Victoria in 1857, South Kensington Museum was not renamed the
Victoria & Albert Museum until 1899. It was in that year that Queen Victoria, in
her last public appearance, laid the foundation stone for the expansion known as
the Aston Webb building, and the new moniker was announced.
When it was first opened at Marlboro House, the museum’s acquisitions
from the Crystal Palace were augmented by the cast collection that had been
assembled since 1841 by Britain’s Government School of Design. That collection
encompassed “ornamental art of all periods and countries.” After the move to
South Kensington, the museum’s increased display space enabled it to accept
the permanent loan of casts, particularly strong in Gothic architectural
ornament, that belonged to the Architectural Museum founded by English
Gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) and others.
Another factor that ironically added to the V&A’s Gothic cast
collection was the tragic burning of London’s Houses of Parliament in
London’s Victorian Cast Courts
Story & photographs
Lynn P. Kirst
spr ing