The National Art Library

The National Art Library section brings you news about exciting new service developments, throws a spotlight on our collections, displays and research projects and provides information about electronic resources with ‘tips and wrinkles’ for making the most of them.

The National Art Library (NAL) is a reference library, open to all visitors. The collection covers the fine and decorative arts, design and art history and contains books, periodicals, auction sale catalogues, exhibition catalogues, electronic resources and other formats of material. Amongst the treasures are artists’ books, illustrated books, fine bindings and rare and unique manuscripts.

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Could you be the next Experienced English Housekeeper?

Portrait of Elizabeth Raffald published in, The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1803.

At the April Friday Late, Baroque to the Future, the V&A put on a talk entitled: Sippets and Syllabubs: Eating in Style in Georgian Europe. Held at the National Art Library, any of the lucky 40 members of the public who bagged a seat would have heard of the cook and author Elizabeth Raffald. You […]

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Architects reading architects: Stephen Riou, Vignola and the recording of provenance

Regola delli cinque ordini d'architettura, by Vignola. Book, published Rome: Gio: Battista de Rossi, [162-?]. NAL: L.5665-1961

When buying a second-hand book, you might consider a previous owner’s name scribbled on the title page to be a disfigurement, something that reduces the value, or makes you seek out a different copy. However, when we are dealing with rare books, marks of ownership can make a book more interesting, giving us information about […]

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Tiepolo’s Apollo and Daphne

G.B. Tiepolo, Apollo and Daphne © V&A Museum

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne was universally admired during the 17th century. In Filippo Baldinucci‘s Life of Bernini (1598-1680), the marble group of Apollo and Daphne is cast as the youthful sculptor’s first great public triumph. Baldinucci describes the statue’s reception as follows: “Immediately when it was seen to have been finished, there arose […]

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The National Art Library is closed for stocktaking

Every year the National Art Library closes its doors for ten days to carry out a stocktaking exercise. The focus of the stocktake is always on ensuring the on-going security and preservation of the collection, and making sure it is stored in the most efficient way. We also take the opportunity to carry out any repairs or […]

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Curiosities of the International Exhibitions 1855-1874: Part Two

The Key, Vol 1, 23 Sept 1871, p. 6. Museum No.: 38041701066839.

This is the second post by guest blogger Beatrice Ashton-Lelliott. Beatrice is on a student placement in the National Art Library from the Royal Holloway MA in Victorian Studies. Following on from my post about advertisements in the guidebooks and catalogues of the exhibitions, I’ll now highlight a few of the stranger incidents which took place […]

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How do you make a book?


The answer to that question depends on where and when you come from. As an apprentice working in the National Art Library I handle many books every day and I am always amazed at the variety of styles I come across. Every time I encounter a poor thing which is damaged I find myself suppressing my […]

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Paper peepshows – The world’s stage in the palm of your hand.


Slip off the cover, draw apart the bellows and peep through the hole to discover the multi-layered, multi-coloured, miniature world of the paper peepshow. In appearance the peepshow resembles a pocket-sized theatre. Held within its expanding walls are glimpses into stunning vistas, celebrated historical events and striking engineering feats. Thanks to the Government’s Cultural Gifts […]

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Curiosities of the International Exhibitions 1855-1874: Part One

L'Esposizione universale di Vienna del 1873 illustrata (Milan: Eduoardo Sonzogno, 1873-1874).

This post is by guest blogger Beatrice Ashton-Lelliott. Beatrice is on a student placement in the National Art Library from the Royal Holloway MA in Victorian Studies. During my time at the V&A I have been primarily working with the NAL’s collection of material relating to Victorian International Exhibitions post-1851. My main task has been […]

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Saint Cecilia in V&A collections

Ventura Salimbeni, Virgin and Child with the martyred Saint Cecilia and angels, detail © V&A Museum, London

Very few works by the Italian artist Stefano Maderno (1576-1636) survive and his fame rests primarily on the sculpture of Saint Cecilia in the church of Santa Cecilia in Rome, made when he was 23. The sculpture was commissioned by Paolo Emilio Sfondrati (1560-1618) who opened the sarcophagus of Saint Cecilia. Through the inscription beneath, […]

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Where to put your lowly medieval bottom

MSL/1910/2385 folio 2 r, Book of Hours (the Margaret de Foix  Hours), France, ca. 1470. © V&A Museum.

In my previous blog we saw how chairs are used as signs of power and status. In this blog I will look at other types of seat on which to place on your (more lowly) medieval bottom Medieval houses were generally sparsely furnished so it is not surprising that very few examples of medieval furniture […]

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