The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London "was founded with the aim of collecting art works that could teach the principles of good design to British manufacturers." While the website would suggest that a substantial emphasis is modern art and crafts, among its riches are extraordinary collections of art relevant for the study of the Silk Road in the Islamic World, South Asia and China, material that is especially rich thanks to the global reach of representatives of the British Empire. The collection includes hundreds of textiles from the Dunhuang Mogao Caves, which have now all been catalogued and may be accessed via the International Dunhuang Project website. The collection of Mughal Art is one of the best anywhere. The focus of the museum on design means that many objects are of particular interest as illustrations of cross-cultural exchange--for example, the Chinese export porcelains made following Dutch or English design; the Islamic ceramics influenced by Chinese porcelain. The Museum is continually updating its displays, one of the most recent improvements being the opening of the new Jameel Islamic Art Gallery.
The Museum is committed to putting all its collections on-line and has already posted a substantial amount.
- Images and descriptive text for V & A objects may be found via the "Search the Collections" page. If you know the inventory number, it is best just to enter that into the appropriate box in the "advanced search." It will be helpful if they eventually add some thematic or other search functions and groupings that are a bit easier to use. The images vary in quality and size, with a good many containing white space that far exceeds the dimensions of the object itself, thus meaning that detail can be hard to see. Visitors to the site are free to download and use the web-sized images for personal or educational purposes, including pasting them into web pages.
- Click here for access to the Asia section of the museum. Each section of this material contains various sub-pages with thematic discussions and illustrations, e.g., so one can study Style in Islamic Art or the Iconography of the Buddha. Objects of particular interest often are the focus of extended discussion--e.g., the Ardabil Carpet and Shah Jahan's jade cup.
- The website also features special exhibitions, e.g. the 2004 exploration of European interaction with Asia following the voyage of Vasco Da Gama, "Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe 1500-1800".
The V & A takes its educational mission seriously, and provides materials, some of them online, for arts education in schools. There is an extensive teaching collection of glass, and until it was closed for renovations, another extensive teaching collection of Chinese ceramics. The V & A has posted a good annotated selection of links to other museum websites.
The images provided here of objects in the V & A are a sampling of items that seemed to be of potential interest for the "Silk Road" taken broadly. The photographs made in 2003 by Daniel Waugh were largely underexposed but have been salvaged to a degree with photoshopping. A recent visit in 2007 has provided some replacement, digital images and a substantial amount of new material. However, where there is no substitute, some of the marginal images have been left in place even if they give only a vague sense of the items. Eventually they will be replaced. Where possible I have linked thumbnails or captions directly to the V & A pages rather than to substandard images of my own. It appears that as yet many of the items in my photos have not yet been added to their website.
Updated January 18, 2009.