One of the exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum
One of the exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum

London's Victoria and Albert Museum claims to be the world's greatest museum of art and design. With artifacts dating back 3000 years, it has a collection so vast that the Museum has not been able to display all of it for some time. To help remedy that, it opened 10 new Medieval and Renaissance galleries to display nearly 2,000 treasures of European art.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, known here as the V and A, is widely believed to house the finest collection of Italian sculpture outside of Italy.

But its Medieval and Renaissance treasures come in many forms.

Mark Jones is the museum's director:

Mark Jones
Mark Jones

"The V and A is lucky to have really one of the greatest collections of European art from the Medieval and early Modern period," said Mark Jones. "It has great sculpture, and great works of art of all kinds. Wonderful tapestries, wonderful textiles, gold and silver, enamel and jewelry."

To illustrate how European art and style have changed across the centuries, the midieval and renaissance collections are now being displayed chronologically across ten new galleries.

Peta Motture
Peta Motture

"This is a bronze roundel that Donatello probably made while he was in Padua," said Chief Curator Peta Motture. This work by Donatello is a favorite of Chief Curator Peta Motture - not least because it came to the museum's attention more than 500 years after Donatello created it and it was being used as an ashtray.

It's just one of many priceless treasures now on display.

"It really is an extraordinary collection that enables us to tell a richness of the story of artistic production and the culture of which it was produced," she said.

Creating 10 new galleries was a challenge.  It involved dismantling, cleaning and often restoring more than 1800 objects. But it also gave experts the chance to re-examine some treasures, and consider factors that may have influenced their creation.

"We also want you to be able to un-peel the layers of meaning that they held for the people at the time to say something about these wonderful art works themselves, but also about the people who made and owned them, and the culture to which they belong," said Peta Motture.

Some objects - such as the (so called) Becket Casket, named after Saint Thomas Becket who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 - take pride of place in individual displays, allowing visitors to get a 360 degree perspective. 

"And I think we've created a new portrait of European visual culture of the medieval and renaissance period," he said.

The project took almost a decade to complete and cost $53 million. Most of the funds came from private donations. Entrance to the museum is free.