Seven years in the making, with a price tag of £31.75 million, the suite of ten galleries attempt to present nothing less than the “history of European art and design from the fall of the Roman Empire to the end of the Renaissance period”. Ambitious doesn’t really begin to describe it. To tell that story within the span of less than 2,000 pieces is even more daunting a task.
During our visit on Monday morning, curators were still finishing off installing some of the galleries, so we were only able to visit half of them. At first glance, though, the V&A has created a fantastic environment in which its substantial collection can flourish. As the final piece of phase one in the Museum’s FuturePlan, the galleries stand as both summation of the work done since the turn of the millennium, and a statement of intent for the years to come. The entire eastern wing of the museum has been transformed, with a new central staircase acting as a pivot on which the galleries can be accessed with ease, the spoils of centuries worth of art and patronage available at your viewing pleasure, whether you’re choosing to take the chronological route or just dip in on a whim.
Early reviews have roamed from reverent to rhapsodic, with critics gushing in this rare opportunity to show off their mastery of the medieval artistic lexicon. We can’t find much to disagree with them on.