London wanderings part II – Victoria and Albert Museum

We dedicate today’s post to the jewellery collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in fact we were very impressed by the part of the collection we saw and its display, absolutely engaging and mindful in its articulation.

The exhibition, focusing on jewellery in Europe, starts by showing a selection of main themes that jewellery has explored or positions it has covered in its relation to the wearer, reading Jewellery adorns and protects the wearer on the journey through life: love and fidelity, beliefs and superstitions, childhood and survival, wealth and status, birth and fertility, death and mourning. It then continues through a comparative historical display, that does take into account as well as really evidencing to the viewer, historical, cultural and religious connotations, reciprocal influences between different styles, the role played by the availability of materials on location or in relation to economical features, market exchanges, appropriations and imitations.

Room 91 – 93, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, Jewellery collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, courtesy V&A

It begins with Egyptian jewellery, passing trhough Etruscan, Greek and Roman ones, or Byzantine and that produced in the Islamic world, linearly showing progresses and evolutions, commons and differences related to time and geography and all that is implied within this. It includes imageries related to a wide range of subjects evidencing how jewellery, just like all other forms of artistic expression, is a product of its time, part of a larger vehiculation of different meanings depending on a wide number of variables.

Unknown,Cast lead, Egypt, ca 400, courtesy V&A

Unknown, Gold, garnet, Greece, ca 200 – 100 BC, courtesy V&A

Unknown,Gold with filigree, Etruscan, ca 500-400 BC, courtesy V&A

Influences and inspirations from antiquity (such as Carlo Giuliano’s works inspired by the discovery of the Helen of Troy treasure), fakes and copies, medicine and magic, jewellery for well being and Wedgewood new productions, naturalism, the art of enamelling and of filigree techniques, Art Deco, the Bauhaus aesthetic and modernism as well as traditional jewellery from various places, are just some of the themes, styles, techniques or issues explored.

Carlo Giuliano, Earrings, Gold, ca 1865 – 1870, courtesy V&A

Frank Bauer, Neckpiece, gold, oxidised silver and stainless steel, 1980-1984, courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum

The more contemporary part focuses particularly on the period from the 50ies onwards, where we indeed noted a predominance of works realized by former or current teachers of the Royal College of Art Jewellery department (but well, it is in London, so absolutely fair enough, this mutual assistance british institutions have towards each other is definitely something other countries should emulate, without ending up being too chauvinists but at least supportive). It at times exhibits the works in relation to the materials used (e.g. gold, with great works by Giampaolo Babetto or Manfred Bischoff), to a particular poetic (such as organic materials and cultural narratives, with works by Kadri Mälk or Manuel Vilhena), or in relation to ‘schools’, such as the new jewellery in Germany.

Giampaolo Babetto, Ring, sheets of gold, soldered into an open cube, 1981, courtesy V&A

Manfred Bischoff, Brooch, gold rolled onto silver, 1988, courtesy V&A

Manuel Vilhena, Necklace, cord, patinated silver, 2003-2004, courtesy V&A

Kadri Malk,Dark Sky of Imagination III, Brooch, painted wood, fur (mole), silver and sapphire, 1997, courtesy V&A

Furthermore a lot of computers are placed around, which allow the audience to search more on specific pieces, with larger images as well as good written explanatory texts and short interviews to contemporary jewellers who talk about their practice and approach.

Also, and that might be on a more ludic tone but also a way to bring near the audience to the discipline, there is a computer game that teaches the audience how to design their own jewellery.

This is what we can definitely consider a great way to deal with such a collection, also rotating it and constantly offering different perspectives on the jewellery field as well as really guiding the audience towards a better understanding of the discipline and helping in acquiring knowledge and parameters on how to look and even relate to it.

If we can express a wish, something we would find of interest would be also knowing more on the acquisitions themselves and maybe contextualizing even more what certain works meant also in relation to the museum and to the city. But that’s just an added reflection we have on how to deal with and to activate a collection…

Do take a look at their website by clicking here and search on it to find more information on the pieces.


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