The V&A: A Whistle-Stop Tour Through History

Museums are my thing. I'm that person who would much rather gawk into dust-covered cabinets of medieval relics than lie prone on the beach while on holiday. One of my lifelong favourites in London is the wonderful V&A, a.k.a. the Victoria and Albert Museum, founded as the South Kensington Museum in 1852. It's an oldie but very much a goodie, its collection spanning an incredible five millennia of decorative arts and design. So one Saturday, upon realising that Alex had never been, I was so excited that we pencilled a trip in for the very next day.

But Sunday was filled with rug-hunting (oh yeah, my weekends are that cool) and so Alex and I were left with a mere hour and a half to experience the joys of the V&A. But it turned out to be plenty. Here are just a few of the odds and ends that we delighted in seeing on our brisk crusade through time...

Hilarious ivory carvings in the Japanese department.

The atmosphere of a church reconstructed through stained-glass windows backlit with neon lights, a rood screen surmounted by a great crucifix, a chancel chapel lifted straight from Italy and even antechambers filled with metallic treasures that would have once graced medieval sacristies.

Peacocks dancing across these golden earrings from the Byzantine Empire, made in the 7th or 8th century. Still so covetable 1400 years later...

This ornate French crosier (carried by bishops and abbots), depicting the Nativity and life of Saint Nicholas. 

An illuminated plain chant choir-book from the Middle Ages, which Alex duly sight-sang. I love the idea of monks bringing readings to life with these chants, considering the meaning behind the words more deeply for having sung them.

A fourteenth-century gilded triptych that would have once graced an altar, resplendent with apocalyptic scenes of many-headed beasts who are chatting at the sinners (but look like they're actually mid-vom).

And then, excitingly, Alex and I came across some reconstructed medieval togs. Which we tried on, obvs. With our best 'Middle Ages Feudal Noble' faces. 

And then things got a little bit silly. Exhibit a) (above): Alex's peasant face. Inspired by the panel on the mirror, but could also possibly represent a fit brought on by symptoms of the Black Death. You never know with these villeins. Serf's up. And all the medieval puns. 

Apart from being a bit long in the arm, I grew quite fond of the medieval-style robes. Quite comfy actually. Potential loungewear, I'm thinking. Although the stink of being worn by millions of tourists made them a little too authentic.

And next, a 16th century spiral staircase removed from a timber-framed house in 16th-century Brittany. I'd love one...but maybe not this particular one, which has clearly been completely eaten to bits by woodworms. 

And lastly, the amazingly gargantuan plaster casts of famous monuments in the Cast Courts - Trajan's Column included.

The building itself is a beaut too. All red brick and endowed with lots of beautiful arches. That central figure in the pediment is Queen Victoria, presiding over the 1851 Great Exhibition that led to the founding of the museum. 

I really liked this elliptical water-feature in the courtyard, whose curves I reckon mimic the arches of the museum building.

But best of all is the wonderful aphorism carved into the doorway to the café.

I do love a good museum café. Particularly when it's this pretty.

Alex and I just about had time for a florentine and a cup of tea before closing time.

On our way out I had a good perve over one of my favourite pieces in the museum - Dale Chihuly's jawdropping blown-glass chandelier, which takes pride of place in the foyer. Scroll back to the top to see the full extent of its serpentine magnificence.

We walked back along Exhibition Road, passing street performers blowing gigantic bubbles and brimming over with the joy of new knowledge. For better it is to get wisdom than gold. 

There's so much to see at the V&A. I only scratched the surface with this visit and will definitely be back soon - I want to see the Wedding Dress exhibition! And Alex hasn't seen the giftshop yet, which is genuinely one of the best museum giftshops out there. 

Have you got any recommendations for great museums or exhibitions that are worth seeing? If so, I'd love to know - we're into the season of constant drizzle now and I'm compiling a list of outings for rainy days!

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