While in London we were able to squeeze in visits to some of this city’s fine museums, the cavernous National Gallery, the fascinating National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum (pics).
In Kensington you will find the Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The husband of Queen Victoria is well represented in this area that some of the locals refer to as “Albertopolis”. The museum is the world’s largest for decorative arts and design. It has 4.5 million objects in its 145 galleries that span the globe and 5,000 years of art. The museum was founded in 1852 and was known as the South Kensington Museum until 1899. From its beginning, the museum also housed the School of Design that eventually became the Royal College of Art. Among the interesting objects pointed out to us by our guide were a carved lacquer table from China’s Ming dynasty and a carved white nephrite jade cup, dated from 1067 AD.
One of the most fascinating collections of the museum are the items held in what they call the “Cast Courts”. Every item in these two large rooms is a plaster cast of some mostly well known sculpture or architectural item. For example, you can’t avoid noticing Trajan’s Column from Rome, Michelangelo’s David or the pulpit from the Cathedral in Pisa, Italy. These plaster casts were created mostly in the late 19th century and were created so that the museum’s design school could use them to help inform their students using full sized replicas of some of the great works of Western Europe. The very art form of creating these plaster replicas has itself mostly been lost. The original items are formed from marble and other types of stone as well as bronze and other metals, yet every item now in the cast courts is made of plaster and somehow provides a realistic look of the original. It is quite amazing to wander among these items (many of which we have seen in situ while on this trip) all collected here in this one place.