Tristram Hunt, historian and MP for Stoke on Trent, this week resigned his parliamentary seat to take up a new post as Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The V&A is one of the most infuriating museums in London – a stunning collection, some superb exhibitions, but too often imbued with a desire seemingly to be more indulgent than inspiring or insightful. If I was unkind I might suggest that that is a good description also of Hunt’s political career, but, as a historian rather than a museum professional, he might be an inspired choice (though he does seem to believe in charging for museums and galleries).
Here is a trawl through some of my favourite galleries in the V&A. (I love the ‘sacred glass’ gallery of stained glass, too, but I realized that I don’t have any decent photos; that will be for another time.)
Islamic Middle East
From the top down: Details of a tile panel with picnic scene, Iran, 17th century; Dishes with Arabic inscription, eastern Iran or central Asia, 10th century; Section of the door cover of the Ka’bah, Egypt, late 19th century; detail of a minbar, Egypt, 15th century; leaf from a Qur’an manuscript, 9th century,
From top down: Detail from two watercolours, of a wrestler and tiger, and a parrot, nineteenth century; details of a tambura and bin-sitar; details of wooden screens.
From top down: Utagawa Kuniyasu, ‘Geisha in a hurry’, Kawanabe Kyosai, ‘Shoki the Demon-Queller’ and Katsushika Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa’, all nineteenth century; wine jar (third century); and sake cup; Detail of a Nō robe (twentieth century) and a fukusa (nineteenth century).
From top down: Casts of heads from Salisbury Cathedral (casts, nineteenth century, originals, thirteenth century); Saint Jude, from twelfth century relief of saints Philip, Jude and Bartholomew, Spain; Relief of St George slaying the dragon, Venice, fifteenth century; leaves from a choirboy, Germany, twelfth century.
From top down: Details from the Brixen Altarpiece, by Rupert Potsch & Philipp Diemer, Italy, sixteenth century; Christ on the cross, Italy , sixteenth century; Coloured glass image of Tobias and Sara (from the Old Testament), Germany, sixteenth century; ‘Studies of Male Nudes in Combat’ by Antonio Pollaiulo, Italy, fifteenth century; Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex (notebook), fifteenth century.
In the pond of the V&A’s central court of the V&A.