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Ceramic staircase at the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Ceramic Staircase caught my eye on another visit, and I had to go back for a longer look.

About the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum, often called the V&A for short, is one of London’s renowned museums, open to the public for no charge. That in itself is remarkable. All the free places have donation boxes and frankly I think all of us who can afford it should pay the suggested modest amount or more. Each donation has a multiplier effect: people are more likely to put money into the box if they see others doing it. End of sermon.

The V&A calls itself “The world’s leading museum of art and design”. It’s an intriguing place, devoted to showing what ingenuity can achieve.

The Ceramic Staircase

On this visit, I wanted to look at the Ceramic Staircase. You have to seek it out, it’s not in an obvious place. I stumbled across it on an earlier visit and couldn’t believe my eyes. Imagine a stairway made of cake and heavily iced with all possible flounces and frills, and you start to get close.

Ceramic staircase at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Ceramic staircase at the Victoria and Albert Museum

 

A decorated panel on the Ceramic Staircase

A decorated panel on the Ceramic Staircase

It’s not a very long staircase, but it packs in a lot of detail and different styles of ceramic art.

 

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One of the floor mosaics on the Ceramic Staircase landing

What a surprise at the top: the Silver Gallery. The vast room was originally the Ceramics Gallery. Such an ornate space would risk outshining whatever noble exhibit a curator might install there, but the silver is able to hold its own magnificently.

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Ceramic column at the entrance to the silver gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum

I wanted to take in all the trimmings of that staircase; the silver would wait for another time.

Famous thinkers of the past

The theme of the V&A is about using our human talents to improve and elevate our societies and ourselves. The pillar in the picture below is one example of how they did it: remembering and honouring the famous scientists and philosophers of the past: Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Linnaeus, and Priestley.

I recognized the first four names but not the fifth. The first words coming to mind for each were:

Aristotle – ancient Greek philosopher, foundational thinker;

Galileo – radical astronomer;

Newton – physicist, gravity;

Linnaeus – botanist.

I looked up Priestley. Joseph Priestley was a co-discoverer of oxygen, and a historian of science. He lived from 1733 to 1804.

Of course my little word associations don’t do justice to any of these great minds, but at least it’s a way to think about what they have in common.

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The Ceramic Staircase at the V&A in London

This great column in the photo below is at the entry to the Silver Galleries. The endless fanciness of the decorations on the surface screams, “Victorian”, doesn’t it? Much as I love the look of this, it wouldn’t fit anywhere else as well as it does here. A palace in Venice, maybe.

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Close up of the column at the top of the Ceramic Staircase

The art of the mosaic turns up in a few places including on the landings. The Romans were masters of mosaic, and in London today you can see some of their original work. The 19th century artists working on the V&A drew on the classical look.

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Mosaic on the Ceramic Staircase landing at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

If you get a chance to visit the V&A, look for the Ceramic Staircase. It only takes a minute or two to climb the stairs, and it will be like nothing you’ve seen before.

 

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