Beautiful Things Without Much Context – The V&A (London Trip #1)

SO. I’ve not updated this blog for about half a term now and that’s absolutely disgraceful. I’m going to try and do some brief catch-ups on the visits I’ve not blogged, just for completeness, but I’m afraid that since it was really quite a long time ago I don’t remember as much as I’d like and the context is NOT complete!

Before Christmas my MA group went to London to have a fly-by at some of the museums down there. It really was a flying visit and I need need need to get back down there and see some of these things in more detail. I got a few good pictures out of it, though!

Anyway, so this is the V&A, or the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. It was originally designed as a sort of craftsman’s reference, to improve the manufacturing industries of Britain in that wonderfully patronising paternalistic Victorian method of philanthropy. 😛 With that in mind, it’s interesting how you can enter the V&A from a subway linked to the Tube line, as I did. It’s a weird experience coming in that way, and I wish I’d kept the series of photos that detailed how the subway begins in a rough, industrial sort of way and becomes finer and finer until you reach this opening, heralded by a revolving designer sign overhead reading “V&A”.

The entrance to the V&A from the subway
The entrance to the V&A from the subway

The colourful and intricate tiles are really quite striking when compared to the concrete floor and dirty beige brick walls of the tunnel you’re leaving (you can just see a sliver of this to the left of the picture above).

subway tiles
Close-up of the wall tiles.

I came into the main museums and tried to call the classmates I was supposed to be meeting, but kept getting distracted by things.

some deer
Some random deer

There were so many beautiful things, but I’m afraid I was appreciating them like some sort of aesthetic magpie, without noting context or artist names. Yes, I know, I’m a horrible student. So hang me for it!  😛

I found out where the others were but got side-tracked by the Islamic art gallery (tucked away at the back! Things this beautiful should get a more prominent place – but that’s another tangent).

bird cloth

bird dish

There was the most beautiful pulpit (I believe the Arabic term is minbar?) displayed whole in the gallery.

The Egyptian minbar
The Egyptian minbar

It looked very familiar, and when I read the label I realised it was of Cairene origin, and reminded me a lot of the mosques I had seen recently when I visited Cairo in spring. If anyone’s interested in Islamic art and architecture I thoroughly recommend a visit, especially to the Mosque of Muhammed Ali (sometimes known as Ali Pasha) inside the Citadel. It’s a fascinating blend of traditional mosque decoration and a sort of weird faux-French style with wreaths and swags everywhere! It’s worth a visit even just for the beautiful cupola:

Anyway, enough of that tangent. Here are some details of the woodwork on the minbar from the V&A:



And for good measure, some tiles I found nearby that show the same kinds of patterns worked in pottery:


Oh man, just look at that woodwork! Those curves and lines! The dark wood against the gilding! Really my photos are just awful, but take a moment to appreciate it anyway. 😛

Seriously, these tiles are just amazing. And a few more dishes etc.




I think the tile makers of the Islamic world would get on well with the craftsmen of Leeds and the area – have you seen how many tiles there are around town even today? With the famous Burmantofts pottery nearby, amongst others, it’s perhaps not surprising how rich our tiled heritage is! Little overview with some nice pics here. They’re everywhere – civic buildings, churches, hotels, the arcades, the theatre, even pubs and random buildings here and there. One day I’ll do a walk through town and snap pictures of a few. It’s beauty all around us, seriously.

Anyway back to the V&A. I didn’t get many pics of the other objects I saw because I was by then very late and rushing, but I did notice a couple of gorgeous chapel doors in the Medieval gallery, which actually reminded me quite a lot in their tones and complexities of the minbar. There’s probably a scholarly comparison in there somewhere – similarities and differences in wooden sacred furniture across the Religions of the Book, perhaps? – but I just thought they were beautiful.

wider view


A brief rush through the costume gallery, with a drive-by snapping of these pics of very Jane Austen outfits!

mr darcy maybe

elizabeth or jane

And then it was on to the exhibition we were actually here to see: Disobedient Objects. Aaaannnd… that’s where I’m going to leave you, for tonight! Disobedient Objects will get its own post shortly, as soon as I sort out my goddamned life. 😛

Good night!


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