The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries will open at the V&A
on 30 June with highlights from the Gilbert Collection, one of the most important collections ever given to Britain. The new galleries reflect Sir Arthur Gilberts passion for craftsmanship of the highest quality and a fascination with collecting works related to important historical figures including Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great and Napoleon.
Over 500 objects will be on show in newly designed galleries, adjacent to the V&As silver collections and overlooking the John Madejski Garden. Previously shown at Somerset House in chronological displays, the Collection will now be presented in four galleries each focussing on a broad category of European decorative arts gold and silver, gold boxes, Italian mosaics and enamelled portrait miniatures.
The first gallery will focus on 16th and 17th-century silver and present pieces made as domestic wares as well as impressive ornamental objects for display. A highlight is a pair of silver-gilt rimmonim, a generous gift to the V&A by Marjorie, Lady Gilbert through the American Friends of the Art Fund, shown together with a Torah crown.
The second will show 18th and 19th-century silver, including a pair of monumental silver and gilt gates from a Russian Orthodox monastic church in Kiev, thought to have been commissioned by Catherine the Great. It will also display portrait miniatures by some of the most important artists working in the medium and depicting prominent historical figures such as George Washington, The Duchess of Devonshire and Oliver Cromwell.
On display in the third gallery will be the Gilberts impressive collection of more than 200 gold boxes. Used to hold snuff or small sweets, they became a fashionable item for elegantly dressed men and women in the 18th century. They were given to friends and lovers, and presented by kings to ambassadors and courtiers. Arthur Gilbert delighted in tracing the links between the boxes and historic events and figures. The collection includes a snuffbox set with a portrait of Philip V of Spain, a declaration of love to Elisabetta Farnese whom he married in 1714. Five of the finest boxes on display are those associated with Frederick the Great of Prussia and are set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and carved hardstones.
The Gilbert Collection has one of the most comprehensive collections of hard stone mosaics (pietre dure) and glass micromosaics, a term coined by Sir Arthur. The final gallery will present pieces ranging from large cabinets, tables and pictures, to clocks and jewellery. On display will be two micromosaic vases and a clock decorated with mosaic panels given by Pope Pius VII to Napoleon on his coronation in 1804. Other highlights are the enormous Panorama of Rome micromosaic panel, created with such technical virtuosity that Sir Arthur first mistook it for a painting, and a pietre dure collectors cabinet made in Prague in 1610.
The galleries will have three audio points to provide a commentary on Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert as collectors, an introduction to Frederick the Greats gold boxes, and another on the Kiev monastery gates. There will also be a specially commissioned video, filmed in Florence in 2008, which will explain the materials and techniques used to make a Florentine hardstone mosaic.
In addition, a display of silver marked by Londons leading 18th-century silversmith, Paul de Lamerie, modelled and chased by the celebrated Maynard Master, will be shown in the adjacent Whiteley Silver Galleries. On show will be the Le Quesne tea kettle, the Mountrath ewer and dish and salvers from the Gilbert Collection, together with the Mountrath silver fish slice on loan from the Honourable Mrs John Dawson-Damer in Australia. The magnificent Maynard Dish is on loan from the Cahn Collection, USA and four silver candlesticks are from an English private collection.
A number of pieces from the Gilbert Collection are being returned on loan to the houses for which they were originally made, including the National Trust properties Dunham Massey, Cheshire and Belton House, Lincolnshire. A silver howdah has been lent to the Curzon Museum in Kedleston, Derbyshire.