New “Europe 1600-1815” Galleries, V&A

From the announcement in the Winter 2016-17 Newsletter :

In December 2015, the V&A opened their new Europe 1600-1815 Galleries. A mix of small and large galleries tells the story of changing European styles from 1600 to the fall of Napoleon in 1815.  This was the period in which Europe really started to engage with the wider world, adopting and adapting the styles and materials of its burgeoning colonies and rival empires. A more open world meant, likewise, the expansion of fashions and luxuries to a broader sector of the population, with the middle class both producing and consuming a new wealth of goods. The new galleries tell these interlocking tales through four long chronological spaces. ‘Europe and the World’, ‘The Rise of France’, ‘City and Commerce’, and ‘Luxury, Liberty and Power’.

Between each of these sweeping galleries, a small room gives you pause to focus on three phenomena that animated these changing object landscapes. The ‘Cabinet’ introduces the impulses and practices of collecting and classifying the world. The ‘Salon’ considers the thinkers, debates and publications that came together to question and guide a changing Europe. The ‘Masquerade’, lastly, evokes the ribald, risqué amusements that flourished alongside consumer culture.

Three historic interiors serve to give a more immersive sense of how life was lived with these objects and also set up domestic and palatial relationships. The objects sensitively tell the complex political, economic and social history of Europe in the period, leaving the visitor replete with the richness of early modern European history. We will have a private tour of the new galleries at 11am with special emphasis given to objects from the Netherlands, and have an option to take lunch nearby after the tour.

From the Report in the Spring 2017 Newsletter:

After Marietta Freeman introduced 20 keen ANS members to guide Elizabeth Hamilton, the group followed the first of various narratives through the 1600-1815 galleries. The first target, illustrating the Baroque features of drama, movement and vigour, was Gianlorenzo Bernini’s statue of Neptune and Triton. One of the most famous sights in Rome, this monumental sculpture stood in a fishpond in Cardinal Montalto’s garden.

Attention shifted to a large tapestry depicting a fully frocked matron, distanced by warmth and wealth from the snowy ‘Winter ‘ scene beyond her windows. The woman’s dress is fur-lined, a fan protects her painted face from the roaring fire and the servant’s tray is piled high with afternoon tea treats.

Via images of Cardinals Zacchia and Medici, progress was made from Italian magnificence to Dutch Domesticity where Abraham Raguereau’s 1663 Portrait of a Man highlighted the individual’s fine lace collar. Close by were three exquisite examples of lace in a case displaying a curfew, warming pan, tiles and a linen press. After the collapse of the Ming dynasty and the cessation of the Chinese porcelain trade, Delft potters forged ahead with imitations of the popular blue and white designs. The amazing 1695 Flower Pyramid was an extremely ambitious and costly construction.

Impressed by the statement of Status and Security offered by imposing cabinets lavishly decorated with ebony veneer, turtle shell and Pietre dure, the group moved on to the Rise of France. This was exemplified in a painting of Juvisy, the home outside Paris of Louis XIV’s Head of Secret Police. The small original building became overshadowed by a chateau modelled on Versailles and confronting a garden designed by Andre Le Notre.

Travelling shaving kit and an elegant blue Banyan – infinitely preferable to Trump’s bathrobe – gave way to musical instruments such as the baryton on which Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy performed Haydn’s music. A recording of this would have enhanced our halt at The Globe, a structure based on a late 18th century panopticon, a circular jail which enabled one warder to guard hundreds of prisoners. The Globe, an artwork specially commissioned from Los Carpinteros, draws on Enlightenment themes and is a space to meet, debate and discuss.

From this point Rococo designs predominated, whether in the form of vegetables on a 1764 Dutch tureen, in Valentijn Caspar Bomcke’s silver scrolling leaves or the richly decorative embroidery on a bright yellow waistcoat – until Napoleon’s Empire style spread throughout the courts of Europe. Making decorative and fine arts central to his new image, Bonaparte chose simple bold designs in luxurious materials and rich colours to link him to great civilisations of antiquity. Prematurely Napoleon had commissioned mementos of his anticipated conquest of England but these were outshone by a towering display of silverware. Recently used at a 2014 banquet, the Victory Service was a gift from Portugal to Wellington to celebrate the Allied liberation of Iberia.

Members of the group conveyed hearty thanks to Marietta and Elizabeth for a varied and enlightening tour before departing for lunch.