Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum showcased eighty objects from the magnificent collections of European decorative art of the 17th and 18th centuries, from the miniature to the monumental. It encompassed many different materials and techniques, including painting and sculpture, ceramics and glass, metalwork and furniture, textiles and dress, prints and drawings. Themes encapsulating important aspects of courtly life in Europe include princely patronage, the importance of war, the role of religion, the peaceful arts of the domestic interior, and the splendor of personal adornment.
Objects included in the exhibition were acquired and used by European men and women of power, wealth and taste. Many were made by Europe’s finest artists and craftsmen, using precious materials from around the world. They come from all corners of the continent – from Britain and France, Italy and Germany, Russia and Spain, Austria and Belgium, Holland and Sweden. A few, made specifically for the European market in Asia, demonstrate Europe’s great appetite for exploration, as well as its establishment of significant trading links and empires
Princely Treasures showcased highlights of the Victoria and Albert’s European collections, which were redisplayed in an elegant and newly refurbished suite of galleries, opening after 2014. This exhibition presented these exceptional pieces through a series of themes encapsulating important aspects of courtly life in Europe.
- Princely Patronage presented key figures from the princely courts who were the great patrons of the arts in Europe between 1600 and 1800. This was seen in objects such as Fan Leaf, an image of the Marquise de Montespan surrounded by luxurious items painted on vellum from 1674, and François Boucher’s portrait painting ofJeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, 1758.
- Power and Glory explored how military power was celebrated and representations of war were used to decorate objects commissioned for courtly use, from armour and weapons to tapestries and paintings. Highlights included a tapestry woven in wool titled The March, 1718–19, which is from a series known as “The Art of War” and measures over twelve feet high, and pair of carved walnut and silver flintlock pistols by Jean Baptiste La Roche from 1760, which bear the royal arms of France and Louis XV’s monogram and portrait.
- Religious Splendor revealed the nature of objects made for worship, commissioned by secular or ecclesiastical patrons for public or private devotional use. Highlights included Charles Le Brun’s painting The Descent from the Cross, 1642–45, and a silver-gilt monstrance from 1705 by Johannes Zeckel.
- Display in the Interior presented furniture, textiles, and ceramics made for use in palaces and noble residences, either for decorative or social purposes. This was seen in objects such as a commode with gilt-bronze mounts by Charles Cressent of 1745–50, a cabinet on stand by Pierre Gole of 1661–65, and a cotton, dyed and quilted bedcover made in India, 1725–50.
- Fashion and Personal Adornment revealed the care and attention aristocratic men and women took to dress in fashionable style. This included a 1760 silk and linen lined sackback gown from London, a silk satin waistcoat from 1730–39, and a gold, painted enamel, gilt-metal watch with brass and blued steel from 1636–1670.
V&A Publishing produced a richly illustrated book to accompany the exhibition. The V&A has one of the world’s greatest collections of 17th- and 18th-century European decorative art. Eighty masterpieces from this magnificent collection, acquired and used by rulers of power, wealth, and taste, provide the focus of this book. Superb new photography reveals a broad range of objects that highlight important aspects of European courtly life.
Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London