27 September 2018


We’re staying in Chelsea, comfy and upmarket, attractive with chimneys and brown brick and the rest. It’s a Mary Poppins view of London to some degree, even if there are many non-English speakers around. It almost seems that overheard speech is mostly some other European language rather than English. Certainly, we’ve heard frequent Italian and Spanish but perhaps we are attuned to these Latin languages. Not least a married couple having pics taken near Eros in Piccadilly Circus amongst much busy-ness and traffic. For a first outing, it’s an old fave, The V&A Museum. It’s an obvious choice but I’m still agog. We started with Europe mediaeval. The first rooms are killers over here, until you adjust to masterpieces by the display-cab load and realise you have to get a move on. Nothing particularly highlighted, but gloriously beautiful, stunningly presented, outrageously special. A fish broach caught my attention amongst the rest. Gold that inevitably glows like new and red ceramic fills in scale-like circles of metal. It’s easy to wonder if nothing is new: certainly it would look the part on a modern wearer. The religious themes are common and perhaps look more out-of-our-era, but at least I understand most of the references. There’s a good deal of saints and torture in this period but also loving devotion and gloriously pretty angels. But you have to get a move on. The attendants were outrageously helpful and probably enjoy the chat. I was entranced by one metal candlestick recounting salvation from Hell (below) to Heaven (above). An attendant came over to discuss it with us and tell the story. In passing she mentioned the Leonardo notebook the level up. We hadn’t known of this but it’s one of the treasures. So, everything is stunning and some more so, treasures to a degree that we just dream of, at least for these European histories. It was a small, squatty leather bound notebook with tiny text, mirror-imaged as was Leonardo’s way, with some sketches, dealing with pulleys and the like. Perhaps 10cmx7cmx3cm. Easy to miss. All small: paper was expensive back then. Another attendant helped and chatted. The V&A had 5 Leonardo notebooks that are rotated through displays. It’s a big museum, so both quality and quantity. I had thought it was for domestic arts, but no, it’s a design museum. Anything new, inventive in its time, is collected. Thus arts with practical things. Drool. Like huge cartoons painted by Michelangelo to guide weavers in creating tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. Owned by the Queen but on display at V&A. There are 5 in one huge room; the other 3 are lost to history. Even the casts are fascinating. Not original, but at life-size, and the selection is informative in itself. We took a free introductory tour and were presented with the David which surprised me for size. I’d seen him before, in the Academia in Florence, but decades back. It seemed much larger now. Then a cafe visit (another innovation of the V&A, apparently) and on to chase works by an ancestor of Megan’s (James Tassie) who appears in the collection (28 mentions in the catalogue for fewer actual works). The V&A is huge and a visit of days or weeks or a lifetime. The guide mentioned 7.5 miles of corridors, 3 million items on display, 2 million (?) items in storage. One secret of good travel is to leave something for next time but how many next times will there be? This was just a touch on the V&A and a return to London, but another full tongue-lolling stunner.

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum is the London.

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