November 30, 2009 / 3:52 PM / 9 years ago

V&A unveils $53 million medieval, renaissance gallery

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - London’s Victoria & Albert Museum unveiled a major new 32-million-pound ($53 million) project on Monday comprising 10 galleries containing medieval and renaissance art spanning more than 1,000 years.

The galleries occupy an entire wing of the museum and present more than 1,800 objects from the V&A’s own collection as well as loans.

The objects, some displayed permanently for the first time, are arranged chronologically through three main areas and tell the story of European art and culture from 300 to 1600 — the decline of the Roman Empire to the end of the Renaissance.

The first room is entitled Faiths and Empires 300-1250, and among the highlights in it is the Becket Casket from Limoges, dating to about 1180-1190 and which probably held the relics of Archbishop Thomas Becket, who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 by four knights in the service of Henry II.

The Rise of the Gothic illuminates 13-century French stained glass from behind, and Noble Living devotes an entire wall to a giant 15th century tapestry depicting a boar and bear hunt.

In Renaissance Art and Ideas, another tapestry, The Story of the War of Troy from southern Netherlands dated 1475-90, is on display for the first time in 20 years following a major conservation program.

And five of Leonardo da Vinci’s small notebooks dated 1487-1505 go on permanent display for the first time, complete with a digital interactive screen allowing visitors to turn the pages, zoom in and out and read translations of the text.

The V&A has turned what was a narrow outside space into a new gallery by covering it with glass, making room to display one of the museum’s largest objects, the facade of one of the few timber houses to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Other large scale works are housed in the vaulted Renaissance City gallery, which boasts sculptures, screens, a working fountain and major altarpieces.

“The new galleries present some of the world’s greatest treasures in beautifully designed galleries that we hope will inspire all our visitors,” said Mark Jones, director of the V&A.

The new galleries open on December 2, and admission is free.

Private donations accounted for more than 20 million pounds of the total cost and nearly 10 million pounds came in the form of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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