A guide to the history and collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum houses what is arguably the greatest decorative arts collection in the world. Located close to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, it is a popular tourist spot that most regular visitors to the city, like Tunde Folawiyo, will be familiar with.

Tunde FolawiyoComprised of 150 galleries, spread out across seven floors, this enormous space holds around four million items, including architectural exhibits, antique furniture, ceramics, paintings, clothes, jewellery and sculptures. The museum houses a particularly large collection of objects from China, many of which date back to the 4th millennium BC. Highlights of this display include an intricately carved imperial throne from the Qing dynasty, and a series of Buddhist statues made from gilded wood. A considerable amount of gallery space is also dedicated to antique dresses, Indian art and Renaissance sculptures.

Originally known as the Museum of Manufacturers, it was given its current name after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria in 1899, when the first stone of the new museum was laid. Despite its title, however, very few of the objects in the museum actually belong to the Royal Family, with the exception of a group of paintings known as the Raphael Cartoons, which were owned by Queen Victoria. These remain on show to the public today, as Queen Elizabeth II has continued to loan them out to the museum.

As a history buff, Tunde Folawiyo may know that the building itself was created by Aston Webb, and opened to the public in 1909. Over the last century, the museum has been extended and renovated, and is now a strange but beautiful fusion of several different design styles. Although it is made up primarily of Edwardian and Victorian architectural features, there are aspects of its structure that are reminiscent of buildings from the Elizabethan, Medieval and Renaissance eras.

This is partly due to the fact that although the original building was created by Aston Webb, a number of the interior rooms were designed by other architects; for instance, the Green Dining Room is attributed to William Morris and Philp Webb. This is Elizabethan in style, and features stained glass windows, as well as moulded plaster friezes and foliage. Conversely, the Centre Refreshment Room, which was designed by James Gamble, was inspired by Renaissance architecture.

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