Royal Gold And Photography Of The Middle East
Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆
The Queen's Gallery's programme involves putting on two contrasting exhibitions simultaneously, based on the vast Royal Collection. The latest pair of shows are very different indeed, covering the use of gold in art and artefacts and photographs of the Middle East.
Gold is the show with the more obvious appeal, featuring impressive objects like the glistening sword belt worn by George VI for his coronation and some spectacular books pressed using gold — one that even bankrupted its publisher.
Arguably the most splendid item is a gold head of a tiger with rock crystal eyes. It was taken from the throne of the Indian ruler Tipu Sultan who once famously said "It is far better to live like a tiger for a day than to live like a jackal for a hundred years". (The exhibition skirts round the sensitive issue of whether this 'spoil of war' should rightfully remain in the Royal Collection.)
The paintings on display are not as striking as the artefacts but as a whole there are enough remarkable items to create a dazzling exhibition.
The adjacent show is completely different and displays the photography of Francis Bedford as he accompanied the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) on a 1862 tour of the Middle East — the first time an official photographer had accompanied a royal tour.
The best images relate to the architecture of mosques and temples, and those of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) as the city where eastern and western styles collide. The exhibition is accompanied by ancient Egyptian artefacts, but these aren't anywhere near as good as what you can see in the British Museum (and for free).
The photography would have been painstakingly done using glass plates and they offer a narrative documentation of a royal tour but, placing their historical significance aside, we didn't find them particularly enlightening.
Gold and Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs from the Middle East are both on at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 22 February 2015. Admission is £11 for adults, concessions available and includes entrance to both exhibitions.
For more great art to see in London, visit our November listings.
Last Updated 09 November 2014