Visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum Cast Courts, 24 March 2019
It was a sparkling Spring day, perfect for strolling through Kensington with the weekend crowds and soaking up the sunshine in the V&A’s garden café.
All of us knew the museum but most had never been in the Cast Courts. They are incredible. The scale of Trajan’s Column, broken into two pieces and still towering far above you, is breath-taking as you turn the corner from the smaller exhibits in the Buddhism and Korea corridor. It was built in AD 106 – over a thousand years before the Norman Conquest, by Roman Emperor Trajan to celebrate his conquest of Dacia (now Romania).
It still stands in Rome: what we are looking at is a perfect copy, cast in plaster and painted to look utterly convincing – as are all the other artefacts which appear to be made of bronze, wood, marble and stone. Most were made for the V&A in the 1870s and proceeding decades. The rooms they occupy were made to measure.
The Victorians were passionate about bringing back the best architecture, sculpture, wood carving and design from around the world and from history, to the British public, to educate and develop taste. Creating replicas allowed them to do that.
One of the delights is being drawn into the life of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries in Europe. The beautiful and intricate arches, ceilings, statues and tombs from religious and civil architecture have a vibrancy which makes one wonder why we know so little about those times, compared to the renaissance or classical periods.
The cast courts are a real treat, and completely free to visit.