Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, opened in 1852 as the Museum of Manufacturers at Marlborough House. It originally contained a nucleus of contemporary objects of applied art bought from the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the instigation of Prince Albert, and collections from the Government School of Design. The collection was soon expanded to include objects of all styles and periods, and the name was changed to Museum of Ornamental Art. In 1857 it was moved to its present site in South Kensington, to become part of the collective museum known as the South Kensington Museum. The present building, designed by Sir Aston Webb, was begun in 1899, at which time the museum was given its present name by Queen Victoria. When this building was opened in 1909, it became purely an art museum; the scientific collections were renamed the Science Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum's collections of paintings and sculpture (especially of early Italian works) are justly celebrated; other collections of note include ceramics, glass, jewelry, textiles, fashion, medieval enamels, ivories, miniatures, metalwork, engravings, photographs, and furniture. Raphael's cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries are among its most famous treasures. The museum embraces the Royal College of Art, an extensive art library, and the collections of the India Museum, which it absorbed. It also includes the Museum of Childhood, located at Bethnal Green; opened in 1872 as the Bethnal Green Museum, it exhibited a variety of objects until 1974 when it was dedicated to the subject of childhood. It now displays the museum's toy collection as well as children's clothing, books, art, and other items related to youth.

See M. Baker and B. Richardson, ed., A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1997); A. Burton, Vision and Accident: The Story of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1999).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Art museums