Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars at the V&A

By Culture24 Reporter | 06 March 2013

Exhibition preview: Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, March 9 – July 14 2013

An image of a painting of a royal woman from the Edwardian court in regal attire
Isaac Oliver, An Unknown Woman in Masque Costume (1609). England© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The V&A’s sumptuous display of more than 150 treasures reveals the  cultural wooing and trade exchanges of mid-16th century Anglo-Russian relations, but the sparkly heart of the show owes more, in craftsmanship terms, to France.

Twenty British and French silvers, given to successive British Tsars or taken from Charles I’s collection and sold by British merchants of the Muscovy Company to Tsar Alexis have been held in the Kremlin Armouries ever since.

An image of a painting of a Tudor monarch in regal attire standing in a drawing room
Unknown artist, Portrait of Sir Jerome Bowes (circa 1583). Kenwood House, Suffolk Collection© English Heritage
Had they remained outside Russia they would have probably been melted down to finance either the English Civil War or the reign of Louis XIV. The potential for silver to be lucratively recycled is emphasised by the Dolphin Basin, made in 1635 by Christiaen van Vianen but later poached of its accompanying ewer (at the end of the exhibition, contemporary silversmith Miriam Hanid has been inspired to create a replacement vase).

The highlights here – a jewel depiction of Elizabeth I alongside a rare portrait of the monarch, a hand-coloured map of Muscovy from 1570 and literature including Shakespeare’s First Folio – are given a royal run for their money by suits of armour, one of which is the tailor-made suit designed for Henry VIII by the Royal Almain Armoury he founded.

The Almain Album, a record of 29 bespoke blueprints for high-ranking Elizabethan courtier attire, lays clear their ideas; with the sense of pomp and circumstance enhanced by the red bulls, black griffins, white rams and crowned white dolphins on the coats of arms of the 16th and 17th centuries.

No illustrations of Russian ambassadors remain, alas, but Charles II is shown receiving the Spanish representative, the Prince de Ligne from the Chateau Beloeil in Belgium.

Thomas Smith’s lavish chariot, made for Tsar Boris Godunov, has been deemed too delicate to travel from the Kremlin Armouries Museum, but it is envisioned in a specially-commissioned film and scale model.

  • Open 10am-5.30pm (9.30pm Friday). Tickets £6-£9 (free for under-12s, family ticket £14-£22). Book online.

More pictures:

An image of a set of 16th century colour drawing designs for a royal suit of armour
Jacob Halder, Design for Sir Henry Lee from the Almain Armourers Album (1586-1590). England (Greenwich)© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
An image of a design of a pair of arm designs with a pair of gloves on the end of them
Maker unknown, Pair of gloves (1603-1625). England© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
An image of a curved silver dish with etchings inside it set against a black background
Christian van Vianen, The Dolphin Basin (1635). England (London)© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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