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V&A announces new Europe 1600-1800 galleries

Man's waistcoat, 1730-1739, probably made in England (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Man’s waistcoat, 1730-1739, probably made in England (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The V&A has unveiled details of the new Europe 1600-1800 galleries, opening to the public December this year. The £12.5m project – that will be free to the public – will see seven galleries transformed for the redisplay of more than 1,100 objects from the Museum’s unrivalled collection of 17th- and 18th-century European art and design. 

Europe 1600-1800 will tell the story of art and design in chronological sequence in four large galleries. This will be alternated with three smaller galleries that focus on specific activities: collecting in the Cabinet, enlightened thought in the Salon and entertainment and glamour in the Masquerade. In addition, three period rooms will invite visitors to imagine life in the personal spaces of the time including a 17thcentury French bedroom, Madame de Sérilly’s cabinet and a mirrored room from 18thcentury Italy. 

The collection comprises some of the most magnificent works held by the V&A, including spectacular examples of textiles and fashion, painting and sculpture, ceramics and glass, furniture and metalwork, prints and books. Many objects were made in Europe by its finest artists and craftsmen for the period’s most discerning leaders of taste such as Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great and Napoleon.

Alongside these items, a large, highly ornate Rococo writing cabinet made for Augustus III and acquired in 1977 from the celebrated sale of Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire will be exhibited for the first time since its recent conservation. Another newly conserved highlight on display will be a grand 18th-century bed from the Parisian workshop of George Jacob. A supplier to royal courts across Europe, Jacob survived the French Revolution and later made furniture for Napoleon.

The displays will demonstrate how France succeeded Italy as the undisputed leader of fashionable art and design in Europe in the second half of the 17th century. They will also show how – for the first time ever – Europeans systematically explored, exploited and collected resources from Africa, Asia and the Americas as part of an increasingly global cultural market. Speaking about the project, V&A Director, Martin Roth said: “At a time when roles and relationships within Europe and the world are under scrutiny, it is interesting to explore the objects, makers and patrons of a period that was so influential upon the habits and lifestyle of Europe today.”

Preparation for the reopening is in full swing. Several large tapestries are being cleaned at De Wit Royal Manufacturers of Tapestries in Mechelen, Belgium, including the Gobelins tapestry after the Poussin painting The infant Moses tramples on Pharoah’s crown manufactured in Paris in the 1680s. Fashion garments and textiles are being conserved in the V&A’s world-renowned studios and a Meissen table fountain is being meticulously researched and rebuilt for the first time since its acquisition in 1870.

About Rebecca Rideal

Founder and editor of The History Vault, Rebecca is a historian of seventeenth-century England, a former specialist factual television producer, and the author of 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire.

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