V&A galleries exploring Europe's Age of Enlightenment reopen following extensive redesign

Seven galleries dedicated to European art and history at London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum will reopen on 9 December following a £12.5m (US$19m, €17m) redesign by architects ZMMA.

The entire front wing of the museum has been restored to house more than 1,000 artefacts dating from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Storage space has been reclaimed to enlarge the galleries by a third to 1,550sq m (16,700sq ft), the 1970s interior cladding has been stripped and windows have been uncovered to allow more natural daylight into the building.

The four largest galleries take visitors on a chronological journey from the 1600s into the 1800s and the Age of Enlightenment. Displays incorporate paintings and sculpture, furniture and metalwork, ceramics and glass, prints and books and textiles and fashion made for historical figures including Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon.

The three other galleries have historically-themed interiors recreating a 17th century French bedchamber, a Parisian cabinet from the reign of Louis XVI and a mirrored room from 18th century Italy.

"Inspired by the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical objects in the V&A’s collection, we have created richly engaging galleries with modern interventions poised elegantly in the restored Aston Webb architecture of the building,” said Adam Zombory-Moldovan, design director at ZMMA.

“Our architectural settings for the displays are detailed in beautiful materials like bronze, walnut, dark stone and leather, making the displays accessible and atmospheric."

One of the galleries features a contemporary ‘room within a room’ sculpture created by Spanish art collective Los Carpinteros.

Named The Globe, the piece is a curved architectural sculpture made from a lattice of beechwood which can seat up to 30 people while they reflect on the galleries and engage with the concept of the Enlightenment.

Lesley Miller, lead curator of the Europe 1600-1815 galleries, said: “The design of The Globe reflects not only the world but also, in its bookshelf, cell-like construction, the organisation of knowledge – central to Enlightenment thought. It also creates space for intellectual debate in a relatively informal setting – the V&A’s own 21st century take on an 18th century gathering space.”

The installation of The Globe, and the wider renovations, are a major part of the V&A’s ongoing redevelopment programme, known as FuturePlan, which began in 2001.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – which has also contributed £4.75m (US$7m, €6.6m) to the Europe galleries renovations – and private donors and trusts, FuturePlan’s biggest component is a major development project outside the museum on Exhibition Road. Amanda Levete Architects have designed a new entrance to the museum, a large courtyard and a purpose-built gallery for the museum’s temporary exhibitions.

V&A director Martin Roth said: “The new Europe galleries are a major development in our ambitious overall programme to renew the architecture of the V&A for the 21st century and, at the same time, re-examine and re-present our collection for our visitors.

“At a time when roles and relationships within Europe and the world are under scrutiny, it is interesting to explore the objects, makers and patrons of a period that was so influential upon the habits and lifestyle of Europe today.”

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Seven galleries dedicated to European art and history at London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum will reopen on 9 December following a £12.5m (US$19m, €17m) redesign by architects ZMMA. The entire front wing of the museum has been restored to house more than 1,000 artefacts dating from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Storage space has been reclaimed to enlarge the galleries by a third to 1,550sq m (16,700sq
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Architects ZMMA led the multi-million pound redesign of the seven Europe galleries / David Grandorge
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