The origins of the Victoria and Albert Museum lie in the first world’s fair, London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, which encouraged the reformed Government School of Design to acquire pictures, sculpture, furniture and applied art to inspire artists and craftsmen. An early acquisition is the South Netherlandish carved oak altarpiece (ca. 1520) probably from St. Bavo in Ghent. Two of Denys van Alsloot townscapes of the Ommegang parade in Brussels (1616) were purchased in 1859 and 1885. The vast alabaster choir screen from the cathedral at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (1610-13), with numerous carved figures and reliefs, was bought in 1871. Netherlandish miniatures, watercolours and drawings include works by Simon Bening and Joris Hoefnagel as well as Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens, Rembrandt and Carel Fabritius. The two-volume catalogue Dutch and Flemish drawings of the Victoria and Albert Museum by Jane Shoaf Turner and Christopher White was published in 2014. The Salting Hours (c. 1470-75, Bruges, Valenciennes) is in the National Art Library collections in the V&A. Highlights of the applied arts include the silver Dolphin basin by Christiaen van Vianen, 1635, and a pair of Dutch Delftware flower pyramids from around 1695. As the V&A’s collections are defined by material rather than by period or nationality, Dutch and Flemish art is spread throughout the museum.
Julius Bryant, Emeritus Keeper of Word and Image (June 2021)