Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection at the V&A

Last week we visited the V&A’s incredible and dazzling display of jewels from the Al Thani Collection. ‘Bejewelled Treasures’ had a remarkable number of jewels, jewelled artefacts and jades on display from as early as the 17th Century right through to the present day.

All of the items on display were either made in India or inspired by Indian designs, a cultural reference we found particularly inspiring given our recent trips to India.

Among the treasures were precious stones and jades originally made for Mughal emperors, gold embellishments from the throne of Tipu Sultan and modern pieces made by Cartier. The dazzling item below is a turban ornament, we loved the purity in its crystal white colouring, the vibrant white feathers help to illuminate the diamond's shimmering clarity.

India’s history with precious stones dates back to ancient times; diamonds were first discovered in India in the 4th Century BC. Rubies and sapphires were later discovered in Burma and Sri Lanka and their sizes and colour would remain unrivalled. The East would become the centre of the precious stone trade, with an enduring European market enticed by this history and quality.

Curator Susan Stronge said ‘The stories embedded in jewellery are what makes it so interesting’, remarking that what makes this exhibition stand-out, is the way these jewels highlight the exchange and influences between India and Europe. We enjoyed seeing the more modern pieces and how Cartier and designers from the 20s explored Eastern traditions to help formulate their embellished art deco style.

Botticelli Reimagined

For this week’s art fix we visited the V&A’s hotly anticipated ‘Botticelli Reimagined’ exhibition. The V&A has triumphantly succeeded in affirming Botticelli’s enduring impact on artists and designers throughout the years.

While he is undeniably considered one of the greatest artists of all time, the V&A reminds us that his work was largely forgotten for 300 years before we rediscovered it in the 19th Century. Since then he has informed the work and imagery of artists to come.

What makes this exhibition so remarkable initially, is its sheer quantity of work, from painting to fashion to film and photography to sculpture and tapestry - it’s got it all! There are some truly breathtaking works like Rosetti's La Ghirlandata, pictured below left. Rosetti even owned work by Botticelli, one of which is featured in this exhibition, a true testament of his love of the Renaissance master.

While we loved seeing the traditional works on dimply, one of the highlights for us was seeing the contemporary piece and how Botticelli’s Venus has been utilised and subverted in contemporary art. The photograph in the centre below uses pieces of trash and junk, remoulding it into Botticelli's iconic composition. The beauty of the images lies in Botticelli's Venus icon to survive amongst its mishmashed context - an interesting metaphor for its endurance in contemporary culture.

The Fabric of India at The V&A

‘The Fabric of India’ is a stunning exhibition currently on at the V&A in London. It is the first major exhibition to focus on the skills, craft and workmanship of Indian textiles from the 3rd to 21st century.

We take inspiration from crafts, traditions and trends from all over the world so this exhibition was of course unmissable for us. Textiles can provide interior designers with a huge source of inspiration; their colours, textures, design and pattern can all inform the basis of an interior’s look and feel.

The exhibition is both a historical journey and a celebration of an ancient craft being vibrantly kept alive today. As you enter the exhibition, you are first taught about the fundamentals of Indian textile production including dying and colouring techniques of silk, cotton and wool.

It is fascinating to discover how the natural plant based dyes can produce such rich colouring that has stood the test of time - many of the pieces on display are centuries old. These dyes come from a range of natural sources including turmeric (yellow), lac beetle secretions (earthy red), indigo plants (blue) and chay root bark (red).

There is a section dedicated to political textiles, as co-curator Divia Patel said “Fabric was also very tied up with the resistance movement. It was a key symbol of power and protest”. Gandhi's Swadeshi movement, for example, encouraged handmade fabric production as a way of rejecting foreign goods. 

Alongside historic items are contemporary pieces, like this women’s ‘Ajrak’ jacket below which was designed by Rajesh Pratap Singh in 2010.

There is also this extraordinary “moveable palace”, pictured below, which was Tipu Sultan’s (the Indian ruler of Mysore) 18th century tent.

The exhibition is on until January 10th 2016 so catch it while you can!