A new V&A
exhibition will examine the development of cultural diplomacy and trade between Britain and Russia from its origins in 1555 when the Muscovy Company was founded. Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars will reveal the majesty and pageantry of the royal courts of Henry VIII to Charles II and Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) to the early Romanovs as they sought to strengthen their power against a backdrop of religious and social upheaval.
The exhibition will begin with Henry VIIIs consolidation of the Tudor dynasty following his accession to the throne in 1509 and the establishment of the English court style. Charting the exchange between consecutive British sovereigns and ambassadors and their corresponding rulers and diplomats in Russia, it will conclude at the end of Charles IIs reign in 1685, after the re-establishment of the British monarchy had resumed contact with Russia.
Comprising more than 150 objects, the exhibition will chronicle the ritual and chivalry of the royal courts with heraldry, processional armour and sumptuous textiles including furnishings and fine clothing. The leading figures of the time including monarchs, diplomats, wealthy merchants and courtiers will be introduced through portraiture, including paintings and miniatures by court artists. Magnificent examples of jewellery and luxury goods will illustrate the valuable gifts presented by ambassadors. Other highlights will include a rarely shown portrait of Elizabeth I; the celebrated Barbor jewel, a pendant of enamelled gold set with an onyx cameo of Elizabeth I; a hand-coloured map of Muscovy from 1570; and contemporary literature including Shakespeares First Folio.
At the heart of the exhibition will be a showcase of spectacular British and French silver; 20 extraordinary survivals given to successive Russian Tsars as well as examples from Charles Is collection sold by British merchants of the Muscovy Company to Tsar Alexis. Held in the Kremlin Armouries since this time, they would have been melted down to finance either the English Civil War or the reign of Louis XIV had they remained in Britain or France. The vulnerable status of silver, easily melted and recycled as coinage, will be underlined by the remarkable Dolphin Basin, made in 1635 by Christiaen van Vianen, a favoured silversmith of both Charles I and Charles II, which lacks its accompanying ewer. This has inspired a new commission for a related vase by contemporary silversmith Miriam Hanid, which will be displayed at the end of the exhibition.
Martin Roth, V&A Director said: This exhibition tells us about Britains longstanding relationship with Russia as well as highlighting similarities of diplomacy and exchange between both countries - then and today. Our partnership with the Kremlin Museums continues this association and we are delighted to bring together such extraordinary treasures from both museums.
The outstanding craftsmanship of the workshops attached to the courts will be explored including the Royal Almain Armoury in Greenwich, founded by Henry VIII in 1515, which tailormade his imposing suit of armour, on loan from the Royal Collection. The Almain Album, a unique record containing 29 bespoke Greenwich armour designs by Jacob Halder for highranking royal courtiers of the Elizabethan court will be shown as an interactive display.
The important role of heraldry in the 16th and 17th centuries as a display of status and strength was conveyed using coats of arms and the depiction of beasts as a metaphorical world of fantastical creatures. The Dacre Beasts, a group of red bull, black griffin, white ram and crowned white dolphin that bear the medieval arms and armorial crest of the powerful Dacre family will be on display with the Kynges Beestes stone lions the only beasts known to have survived from Henry VIIIs royal palaces. The heraldic emblem of the pelican will also be represented; a pair of live pelicans were given to Britain in 1662 by the Russian ambassador and nested in St Jamess Park where their successors remain today.
Although no illustrations of Russian ambassadors presenting at British courts are known, other depictions of European ambassadors presenting to British monarchs will be included. Paintings showing Charles II receiving the Spanish ambassador, the Prince de Ligne from the Chateau Beloeil in Belgium, will be projected to convey the fanfare and public excitement surrounding an ambassadorial reception. A remarkable example of gift-giving at court is the lavish chariot presented in 1604 by British ambassador Thomas Smith to the Russian ruler Tsar Boris Godunov. It reflected Britains technological advances and introduced the notion of wheeled transport for the first time to Russia. Too delicate to travel from the Kremlin Armouries Museum, it will be represented by a specially-commissioned film and scale model.
The works will be drawn from the V&As collections, with important loans from Russia, including the Kremlin Armouries Museum and the State Historical Museum in Moscow, alongside objects from British collections including the National Portrait Gallery, National Maritime Museum, the Royal Collection and Royal Armouries.
The exhibition marks the 400 year anniversary of the Romanov dynasty and is part of an ongoing programme of exchange between the V&A and the Kremlin Armouries Museum in Moscow.