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

by FrancesSpiegel

Pageantry and splendour of the royal courts of Henry VIII, Ivan the Terrible, Charles II and the Romanovs on display at Victoria and Albert Museum

The V&A's Spring 2013 exhibition explores Britain’s longstanding relationship with Russia. As it examines the pomp and splendour of the courts of Henry VIII, Charles II, Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV) and the Romanovs it draws our attention to similarities of diplomacy and exchange between the two countries.

Treasures of the Royal Courts features more than 150 items including British and French silver, royal portraits, furniture, clothing and textiles, jewellery and luxury goods, ceremonial armour and heraldry.

Pomp and Splendour of the Royal Courts

The exhibition looks at the relationships between British sovereigns and ambassadors and their Russian counterparts, looking in particular at the pageantry of the royal courts in the context of the social and religious upheaval taking place at the time. The words of the Director of the V&A, Martin Roth, describe this exhibition succinctly: “This exhibition tells us about Britain’s longstanding relationship with Russia as well as highlighting similarities of diplomacy and exchange between both countries - then and today.″


Items on display have been sourced from the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Collection and Royal Armouries as well as from the Kremlin Armouries Museum and the State Historical Museum, Moscow.

Highlights of the Exhibition Stunning British and French Silver

Stunning British and French Silver

The focal-point of the installation is a display of 20 stunning examples of British and French silver. Many of the pieces originally formed part of Charles I's collection and were sold by British merchants of the Muscovy Company to Tsar Alexis. Also featured are items presented as gifts to Russian Tsars.


If these items had stayed in France or Britain it is more than likely that they would have been melted down to fund Louis XIV's reign or the English Civil War. The display includes the renowned Dolphin Basin, made in London in 1635 by Dutch silversmith Christiaen van Vianen (active 1600-67). The basin, and a ewer, now lost, was used for rosewater. It resembles a human ear and is embossed with grotesque figures and a dolphin set in swirling patterns. The basin was designed to hang vertically as evidenced by the holes in the top. Vianen worked for Charles I and was 'silversmyth in ordinary' to Charles II. The basin is not hallmarked, but is signed 'C. d. Vianen fecit 1635' on the reverse.


The Dolphin Basin

Christian van Vianen, England (London) 1635, V&A Images
The Dolphin Basin
The Dolphin B...
Christian van...

Hampden Portrait of Elizabeth I - A Portrait Rarely Seen

Dr Tessa Murdoch, the Museum's Deputy Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass, introduces key figures through portraits and miniatures such as a rarely seen portrait of Elizabeth I (c. 1560) attributed to Steven van Herwijk.

Hampden Portrait of Elizabeth I

Attributed to Steven van Herwijk or Steven van der Meulen, England C. 1560 Copyright Philip Mould Ltd
Hampden Portrait of Elizabeth I
Hampden Portrait of Elizabeth I

Jewelled Splendour – The Barbor Jewel

The display also features fine pieces of jewellery, such as the renowned Barbor jewel, an enamelled gold pendant showing an onyx cameo of Elizabeth 1. The piece bears table-cut rubies and diamonds and is hung with a cluster of pearls. The back plate bears an oak tree.

The Barbor Jewel (Reverse)

Maker unknown, England, C. 1615-1625, Copyright V&A Images
The Barbor Jewel
The Barbor Jewel

Armour of Henry VIII, Made by Royal Armouries England (Greenwich), c. 1539.

Made by Royal Armouries England (Greenwich), c. 1539. Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2012
Armour of Henry VIII
Armour of Henry VIII

Armour and Heraldry of the 16th and 17th Centuries



The exhibition also examines the very high quality of craftsmanship that came out of the workshops attached to the royal courts. One such workshop, the Royal Almain Armoury at Greenwich was established in 1515 by Henry VIII.


The display includes a full suit of armour tailor-made for Henry. An interactive display shows The Almain Album which contains 29 bespoke armour designs by Jacob Halder. The exhibition also looks at the place of coats of arms as status symbols during the period.


Visit the Exhibition

Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars can be seen from 9th March to 14th July 2013. Visitors will be offered an audio guide narrated by historian David Starkey in English and Arkady Ostrovsky, Moscow Bureau Chief of The Economist, in Russian.


The exhibition is supported by a 176-page publication (Russian and English editions) by Dr Tessa Murdoch and Olga Dmitrieva of Moscow State University. The book features 250 colour illustrations and is available from the V&A and all good book stores. Tickets and further information can be obtained from the Victoria and Albert Museum.


The V&A is grateful to the Friends of the V&A, the Summa Group and Vnesheconombank for their support in this venture.


English and Russian History and Culture

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Updated: 03/05/2013, FrancesSpiegel
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