Better known today as the Victoria and Albert Museum following its renaming in 1899, the South Kensington Museum was created in the aftermath of the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Initially located in Marlborough House on the Mall, it moved to its South Kensington site in 1857, opening to the public on 22nd June that year. Recorded among the visitors in the initial couple of years was Queen Victoria – who visited twice in February, 1858, and then again open 14th April when she was accompanied by Prince Albert.

The purpose of the later visit was to open the Art Rooms on the ground floor of Sheepshanks Gallery, a building which had been specifically constructed to house paintings given by John Sheepshanks (the building, located on the eastern side of the John Madejski Garden now contains sculptures on the ground floor and silver and stained glass on the first floor).

One interesting connection between the Queen and the museum can be found in a six metre tall plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David. The cast was given to Queen Victoria as a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857 but she didn’t want the trouble of housing the giant figure (and she was apparently shocked by its nudity – more on that in a moment). So the Queen gave the statue to the museum where it was installed in a prominent position (and can today be seen in Room 46b).

But ah, yes, the nudity. The story goes that in response to the Queen’s shock, a proportionally accurate plaster fig leaf was commissioned to cover David‘s nether regions whenever the Queen visited (apparently by being hung on two small hooks on the cast). The fig leaf, like the statue, can still be seen – it’s housed in a small case on the back of the plinth David‘s standing on.

David is one of only a few items in the V&A’s collection today which once belonged to the Queen or Prince Albert. Others include the Raphael cartoons which she loaned to the museum in 1865 (and are still on loan from the current Queen).

As part of the redevelopment of the museum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when it was also renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum despite the Queen’s wishes it be called the Albert Museum), statues of the royal couple were installed above the museum’s main entrance in Cromwell Road with Prince Albert positioned just below the Queen who is flanked  by St George and St Michael (see above).

PICTURES: Courtesy V&A

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (Fridays to 10pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

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The collaborative partnership between Renaissance Italian artists Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo is the subject of a new exhibition which opened at The National Gallery this week. The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Michelangelo & Sebastiano features about 70 works – paintings, drawings, sculptures and letters – produced by the pair before, during, and after their collaboration. The two met when Michelangelo was working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and spent 25 years in a friendship partly defined by their opposition prodigious artist Raphael. Key works on show include their first collaborative work, Lamentation over the Dead Christ (also known as Viterbo ‘Pietà’ it was painted in about 1512-16), The Raising of Lazarus (completed by Sebastiano in 1517-19 with Michelangelo’s input and one of the foundational paintings of the National Gallery’s collection – it bears the first inventory number, NG1 ), The Risen Christ (a larger-than-life-size marble statue carved by Michelangelo in 1514–15 which is shown juxtaposed, for the first time, with a 19th-century plaster cast after Michelangelo’s second version of the same subject (1519–21)), and, Michelangelo’s The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist (also known as the ‘Taddei Tondo’, it was commissioned in 1504-05 and is on loan from the Royal Academy of Arts). The display features a 3D reproduction of the Borgherini Chapel in Rome to evoke the sense of seeing the works in situ. Runs until 25th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Sebastiano del Piombo, Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1516), The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg/© The State Hermitage Museum /Vladimir Terebenin

St Patrick’s Day is tomorrow and to celebrate London is hosting three days of events showcasing Irish culture, food and music. Cinemas in the West End will be showing short Irish films, there will be comedy, drama and family workshops, an Irish Cultural Trail in the Camden Market and a world-renowned parade on Sunday ahead of a closing concert in Trafalgar Square. For the full programme, see www.london.gov.uk/stpatricks.

An exhibition dedicated to the life and career of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, has opened at the Science Museum. Attended by the woman herself in honour of her 80th birthday this week, Valentina Tereshkova: First Woman in Space tells how Tereshkova came to be the first woman in space when, on 16th June, 1963, at the age of just 26 she climbed aboard the USSR spacecraft Vostok 6. She orbited the Earth 48 times over the three days, logging more flight time than all the US astronauts combined as of that date. She never flew again but remains the only female cosmonaut to have flown a solo mission. Tereshkova, who had been a factory worker, went on to become a prominent politician and international women’s rights advocate. The exhibition, which is free, is part of the 2017 UK-Russia Year of Science and Education. Runs until 16th September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/valentina-tereshkova.

Six unbuilt architectural landmarks – proposed for Moscow during the 1920s and 1930s but never realised – are at the heart of a new exhibition which has opened at the new Design Museum in Kensington. Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution looks at how the proposed schemes – including the Palace of the Soviets, planned to be the world’s tallest building, and Cloud Iron, a network of horizontal ‘skyscrapers’ – reflected the changes taking place in the USSR after the Russian Revolution. As well as the six case studies, the exhibition features a dedicated room to the “geographical and ideological centre” of this new Moscow – the Lenin Mausoleum. Runs until 4th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.

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Henry-Moore-altar

A beautiful church in the round, St Stephen Walbrook has a rich history with one of its stand-out features is an altar designed by world renowned sculptor Henry Moore. 

The centrally located circular altar, carved between 1972 and 1983 of polished travertine marble (the marble was taken from the same quarry as that used in Michelangelo’s work), is eight foot across and weighs several tons.

It was commissioned  by property developer and churchwarden, Lord Palumbo, as part of a £1.3 million restoration of the church – built under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s, replacing an earlier church which burnt down in the Great Fire – which took place between 1978 and 1987.

It was deliberately designed to be placed at the centre of the church and didn’t take up its new position without controversy with objectors to it taking the matter to the Court of Ecclesiastical Cases Reserved (they ruled the altar was acceptable for use in a Church of England church).

WHERE: St Stephen Walbrook, 39 Walbrook (nearest tube stations are Bank and Cannon Street); WHEN: 10am to 4pm weekdays (check website for changes); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.ststephenwalbrook.net.