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ALBERT AND VICTORIA ART AND LOVE Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace 19 March–31 October Admission £8.50 (ticket can be reused for one year at the gallery)


ONE OF the problems of writing for a monthly magazine is that copy deadlines don’t always fit in with the rest of the world. By the time you read this article there will be some very interesting exhibitions on in London, the Royal Academy’s ‘Treasures from Budapest’, Raphael’s cartoons and tapestries for the Sistine Chapel at the V&A to name but two. But, as I write, the autumn season has not quite begun and there is not much which is current which will be around for October. Fortunately two interesting shows will be, and by chance both are an easy walk from Victoria Station. Te first is the recently opened


permanent exhibition of ‘Treasures of Westminster Cathedral’. When I went (11 o’clock on a Tursday morning) the staff could not have been kinder, but there could have been more of them and I had to wait until there were enough on duty before they were able to open up. But it was no hardship siting in the cathedral, listening to the choir singing Fauré’s Requiem. When it is open the exhibition is


beautifully displayed. In the main room, there are some fine vestments, notably a white chasuble belonging to Cardinal Archpriest Edward Henry Howard and a cope of Cardinal Manning, possibly worn at the First Vatican Council. Tere are a number of chalices including one given by Pope John Paul II and one from the seventeenth century whose plainness is witness to the times of persecution. Among the monstrances there is a very large one in a mix of Arts and Craſts and Art Nouveau styles, with bulging amethysts and St Francis and St Clare, both of whom seem slightly out of place


in such grand surroundings. Tere are also relics and crosses and what looks like a truncheon carried by a member of the cathedral’s equivalent of the CBS. Te outside lobby has photographs of the construction of the cathedral and a large model of the cathedral. Tis is not a large exhibition and £5


is not cheap for two small rooms. But the Treasury in Notre Dame in Paris is not much beter and not as well displayed. Just around the corner from the Cathedral, the Queen’s Gallery


buxom young queen looking up into Albert’s whiskers. But the relationship was not an equal one. Not only did Victoria have a lot more jewels – off- cuts from the Koh-i-noor are on display – there is a revealing note about her purchase of Leighton’s ‘Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna Carried through the Streets of Florence’ – she bought it because Albert just had to have it. Family matered to Victoria, almost


to a religious degree. Just off the gallery’s first room there is a case of arms and hands taken from casts of sleeping royal babies and children – it is a chaste version of the reliquaries on show at the Cathedral. Actual religion itself plays very litle part amongst the bling. A watercolour shows the original Buckingham Palace chapel, described by Victoria as suitably ‘grave’ – it is a severe red and white room with massive plate on the holy table and nothing else. Just as indicative of the royal take on religion is the ‘lily font’, a small


at Buckingham Palace is showing ‘Victoria and Albert: Art and Love’. Te royal couple were not high-minded connoisseurs. Albert’s largest haul of paintings, a hundred late medieval paintings from the von Oetingen- Wallerstein collection, were collateral to a loan. Twenty-five of them were given to the National Gallery when the collection failed to sell on the open market. But it is through Albert that the most interesting paintings in this show came to Britain – the first Duccio to be brought to the UK, and Cranach the Elder’s ‘Apollo and Diana’. But these aren’t really the point of the exhibition. What we come to see is what the couple bought for each other, or were given. Tis is made clear at the outset. Te


staircase up to the exhibition has on either side twelve gilt-bronze statues of former rulers of Bavaria, a birthday present from Albert to Victoria. Her presents to him were just as subtle. Tey include a charming portrait of herself almost en déshabille, and a gilt Lady Godiva. Other portraits show the


portable font used at the always private royal baptisms from Victoria’s day until the present. Te regal spirituality is summed up by Winterhalter’s ‘Te First of May 1851’. Here in a deliberate echo of an Adoration of the Magi the Duke of Wellington kneels before the Queen and his godson, Prince Albert. However, any troubling


undercurrents there might be are undercut by the silliness and vulgarity of the more worldly exhibits, esecially an Indian throne from the Great Exhibition. My own favourites were household goods from the Balmoral hunting lodge, every surface a display of biscuit tin Scotishness. Te most splendid of these items is a setee made up of shocking green fabric held together by antlers and hooves.


It


must have been a nightmare trying to navigate around this atention-seeking object without catching the wide court dresses of the day on the points of slaughtered deer. Tere is one example of those dresses on show, a real fancy dress worn by


October 2010 ■ newdirections ■ 29


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