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VM inspiration: New European Galleries at the V&A 1600 -1815

On a dark gloomy day, post Christmas, rush to the new European galleries at the V&A to feast your eyes on some truly beautiful things. The galleries have been rearranged to match, or even improve on, the wonderful Medieval galleries on the lower ground floor.

The lower floor now boasrs three large galleries, each covering a specific period post-1600, interspersed with smaller galleries considering a single wonder.

Let’s take a look at those which might inspire VM concepts, commencing with a model ceiling dome. Shaped like half an Easter egg, this allowed a painted ceiling on a dome to be modeled to scale and in great detail. Depicting Paradise this Italian dome dates from about 1680, and is displayed aptly suspended above visitors’ heads, just as the full-scale version was designed to be viewed looking heavenwards.

The lively expression of this French mask, in gilded bronze, is compellingly animalistic. Dating from about 1700 and probably designed to be part of a fountain this Pan - the Greek god of the wild, shepherds, and flocks, with his unruly locks - has a playful quality too. Male mannequins wearing masks such as these would be instantly transformed in to eye-catchingly sexy satyrs, eminently suitable for Spring - of which Pan is also a god.

Still in the Baroque period (1600 - 1750), this mirror (Italian, 1650 - 1700) and the marble-topped table (Rome, 1690) placed below it, epitomise this global fashion for stylized motifs drawn from nature.

The rich exuberant effect of the 3D scrollwork of acanthus leaves captures the feeling of the period: this is the equivalent of rock and roll. This is the perfect surround for super-simple merchandise, and acanthus leaves also work as 2D prints on glass, or on a backdrop.

Moving on to the Rococo gallery - a relative rarity in the UK, where the style (also called late Baroque, about 1700 to 1800) was less popular - this French wall panel (1730 – 1740) typifies the lighter, gentler touch more frequently seen in Russian, German, and Austrian architecture of the period.

Characterized by light colours, florals, and asymmetrical shell-like details, this wall panel with its sweeping detailing of a fox and a cockerel from Aesop’s fable, typifies the look and sits beautifully behind a perfectly reupholstered French day bed (1745 – 55). Intended to seat one or two people, the bed was designed for intimate conversations. Imagine a beautiful slip draped across it and it would make a perfect VM installation just as it is.

Last up, let’s take a look at the Duke of Wellington’s Victory Service (1813 - 1816), created for him by Domingo Antonio de Sequeira (1768 – 1837), the Portuguese court painter, to celebrate the successful alliance of Britain, Spain and Portugal, and the liberation of Spain and Portugal from the French occupying forces in the Peninsular War (1808 - 1814). Ironically, it is decorated in Empire style, much popularized by Napoleon, together with classical symbols of victory and power. The support for this column of silver is substantial but barely visible amongst the shiny splendor of the dinner service: a VM inspiration for all tableware retailers.

The V&A has a series of talks arranged on the new rooms. See the website for more information.