Sculpture, metalwork, ceramics & glass department
The Department of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass (SMCG) cares for over 110,000 objects reflecting, primarily, European history and design. We make these collections accessible through gallery displays, exhibitions, publications, talks, web pages and loans. You can explore the collections on the V&A’s Search the Collections page.
We provide regular Opinions and Public Enquiries services to help members of the public research their own items of interest. Visitors have access to stored material by appointment, usually with the relevant expert curator. The departmental archives, including registered descriptions and registered files, are made available by appointment.
The collections held by SMCG cover a great range of materials and dates and are focused primarily on Europe. We do not collect Asian material as this is held by the Asian Department. We have small collections of American, African, South American and modern Australian silver and ceramics, but in principle, objects from other areas of the world can be seen elsewhere, including at the British Museum.
Designated the National Collection of Sculpture, this collection concentrates on Western European Sculpture from the 4th century to the end of the 19th century. We also have a small collection of Roman and pre-4th-century sculpture and some material post-dating the 19th century, most notably the Rodin collection (given by the artist) and some small-scale contemporary sculpture including medals.
Highlights of the collection include masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance, ivory carvings of all periods, Northern European wood and other sculpture, commemorative medals and plaster casts.
The sculpture collection contains approximately 22,000 objects.
We care for the world's most comprehensive collection of European decorative metalwork from 500AD to the present day.
The V&A is the repository of the National Collection of English Silver, with wide ranging collections of European silver, jewellery, church plate, enamels, ironwork, arms and armour, pewter, brass, lead, ormolu, Sheffield plate, cutlery, clocks and watches, scientific instruments and some plastics.
The metalwork collection comprises an estimated 40,000 objects.
Ceramics and Glass
As well as ceramics and glass, SMCG looks after stained and painted glass, painted enamels on copper, and some plastics. The collection spans mainly medieval to contemporary, although we have small collections of ancient pottery and glass. We actively collect the contemporary in terms of both factory and studio-made ceramics and glass.
Some ceramics and stained glass in the Museum are designated as being part of the Fabric of the Building i.e. they are architectural features of the Museum rather than museum objects.
Our ceramics and glass collection comprises approximately 50,000 objects.
As well as interpreting the objects for visitors through gallery displays, text panels and interactives, SMCG works alongside other departments such as Visitor Services and Learning and Interpretation to ensure that the galleries function well, are as accessible as possible, and look their best.
Our galleries have changed significantly due to FuturePlan, the Museum’s programme of restoration and reinterpretation that began in 2000.
The new or refurbished galleries include (in order of completion) the following galleries:
- The Whiteley Silver Galleries (2002), where nearly 3,000 pieces of British and European silver from the medieval period to the present day are displayed.
- The Belinda Gentle Metalware Gallery showing highlights of the pewter, brass and cutlery collections (2004).
- The Märit Rausing Gallery of Contemporary Glass (2004).
- The Sacred Silver and Stained Glass Galleries (2005).
- The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries of Sculpture in Britain (2007).
- The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery (2008), showcasing over 3,000 pieces of jewellery.
- The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (2009).
- The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection (2009), largely gold, silver and mosaics.
- The Ceramics Galleries 140-146 (2009).
- The Ceramics Study Galleries 136-139 (2010), which incorporates the Ceramics Study Room.
- Sculpture in Europe 1300-1600 (2010).
A major renovation of the Cast Courts is currently underway.
Access to objects in our collections
Our most important objects are either on display or out on loan to exhibitions at other venues. Others are in store, either at the main South Kensington site, off-site at Blythe House, Olympia (London) or, for very large pieces, our store in Wiltshire. Our online Search the Collections facility will state whether an object is in a gallery or in store. Please see the contact details section to contact a curator and arrange a session to view a specific object that is not currently on display.
Facilities and services:
Members of the Public can bring their own objects into the Museum and discuss them with curators on ‘Opinons’ afternoon, the first Tuesday of the month, 2.30-5pm.
To help members of the public research their own areas of interest, they can contact curators with an enquiry (see Contact details below).
Visitors have access to stored material by appointment, usually with the relevant expert curator.
The departmental archives, including registered descriptions and registered files, are made available by appointment.
The Ceramics Study Room is now open off gallery 139.
Appointments to see objects may be made by telephoning the Ceramics and Glass Section +44 (0)20 7942 2073 or Asian Department +44 (0)20 7942 2244, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Sculpture, metalwork, ceramics and glass collecting
The Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass Department was formed in 2001 from the amalgamation of the former Departments of Sculpture, of Metalwork, and of Ceramics and Glass.
The tradition of collecting in these three areas is based on curatorial expertise, with the result that the Museum has often been able to make valuable additions in under-researched areas at low prices. The creation of the three collections stems from the organisational re-arrangement of the Museum in 1909; but there are many links between sculpture and the decorative arts, and their grouping together offers the chance to revisit past priorities – while continuing to fill gaps in the historic collections – and to place additional emphasis on collecting the contemporary across the collections. Acquisitions often have relevance to more than one of the collections.
FuturePlan gallery projects have impacted particularly on this Department over the last decade, and have provided opportunities to evaluate the strengths of the existing collections. Demonstrating the synergy between acquisition and display, the new ceramic galleries illustrate the importance of technical developments in ceramic history, with recent acquisitions reinforcing this important point. The creation of a new contemporary glass gallery has provided the opportunity to develop our collections in this area and to make more contacts with international practitioners in this field.
There is now a renewed emphasis on collecting the contemporary, as this is seen as an important way of inspiring further new work and attracting a wider range of audiences. This calls for the adoption of new ideas on ‘virtual’ collecting, for the documentation of innovative techniques in production, and of evidence of popular and commercial success where this is appropriate.
On occasion we will commission contemporary work both on a small scale (as with the seal of the Board of Trustees of the V&A, designed and made by Malcolm Appleby in 1985, and the presentation medal made by Felicity Powell in 2002-3) and on a larger scale as part of a new gallery display, as with the installation ‘Signs and Wonders’ by Edmund de Waal installed in the Ceramics Galleries in 2009. This was also the case with the ironwork gates by James Horrobin (1981-82) in the Ironwork Gallery, the Danny Lane glass staircase (1994) in the Glass Gallery and the stained glass in the Whiteley Silver Galleries. Key items are also occasionally borrowed, as in the case of the Chihuly chandelier in the Dome.
Certain collections, including the plaster casts and electrotype reproductions, are not actively developed, although acquisitions might still be made in these areas.
Relationships with both national and regional museums are being further strengthened in a variety of ways. Joint purchases – such as in the case of The Three Graces by Antonio Canova, bought in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland in 1994 – is one such area of potential growth; and the expert advisers in the Department acts as ‘champions’ for export- stopped items, often encouraging and aiding other museums to acquire works of art in danger of being exported. Long-term loans in to the Museum, as with Tate loans to the Sculpture Galleries, may sometimes be seen as an alternative to purchase, and make the most of the nation’s holdings in different institutions.
The Sculpture collection is the most comprehensive holding of post-classical European sculpture in the world, containing over 17,000 objects. Since it was formed within an applied art museum, the V&A’s collection is much broader than those found in many art galleries, where sculpture often simply forms an adjunct to a paintings collection. The collection contains outstanding and numerous examples of medieval ivories and English medieval alabasters, and celebrated collections of Italian Renaissance and Baroque sculpture; it also extends to polychrome wood sculpture and small-scale boxwood statuettes, terracotta sculptors’ models, bronze statuettes and functional pieces, including ivory plaques for the adornment of book covers.
The chronological range of the collection is conditioned by the existence of the pre-eminent collections of classical sculpture at the British Museum and the holdings of post-1914 sculptures at Tate. With a small number of exceptions, therefore, the earliest pieces date from the beginnings of Christian art in around 300 AD and the latest to the early 20th century.
The collection enjoys the status of a National Collection. Although certain categories of European post-classical sculpture are also to be found in the British Museum, the Wallace Collection and notable regional museums, nowhere else is the entire range of sculpture represented in such depth.
The earliest acquisition dates from 1844. Major landmarks in the second half of the 19th century included the acquisition of the Gherardini Collection of sculptors’ models in 1854, sculpture from the Soulages Collection in 1856 and the Gigli-Campana Collection of Italian Sculpture in 1861. Numerous acquisitions made by J C Robinson in 1852-67 and the early 1880s created a collection of Italian sculpture that is unequalled outside Italy. The extensive collection of medieval ivories was established by the end of the 1860s through a series of purchases from the London dealer John Webb. The beginning of the 20th century was marked by gifts of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture from J H Fitzhenry between 1906 and 1910, and the Salting Bequest greatly strengthened the holding of bronzes and ivories in 1910. Rodin’s gift of 18 of his sculptures in V&A Collecting Plan 2010 31 1914 instantly established the Museum as a place of study for the artist’s work. In 1916 the collection of architectural sculptures and plaster casts from the Royal Architectural Museum was transferred to the V&A. Dr W L Hildburgh was an outstanding benefactor to both the Sculpture and Metalwork collections: from 1915 until his death in 1955 he made numerous single gifts, but his greatest donation was his entire collection of over 260 English Medieval alabasters, given on his 70th birthday in 1946.
We aim to acquire documented, signed and dated works of art that will enrich the most comprehensive holding of post-classical sculpture in the world. English sculpture and post- medieval ivories are two of the areas in which we especially seek appropriate additions. The collecting of 20th-century and contemporary sculpture is currently being re-assessed to reflect the Department’s holdings in other areas. Although by agreement with Tate in 1983 we do not currently collect large-scale sculpture produced after 1914, we are actively adding to our collection of 20th-century and contemporary medals, and other small contemporary sculpture including ivories and bronzes. Discussions with Tate have taken place in connection with the display of post-1800 sculpture in both places: there is the expectation that the displays at South Kensington, Millbank and Bankside will continue to be considerably improved by a series of mutually-advantageous loans.
The Metalwork collection contains over 45,000 examples of decorative metalwork, silver and jewellery ranging in date from the Bronze Age to the present day. It includes the national collection of English silver, an outstandingly comprehensive jewellery gallery, and collections of ironwork, continental silver, arms and armour, medieval champlevé and late 19th-century enamels, brasswork, pewter and medieval metalwork of international importance. The pre- 1800 German silver collection is the largest outside Germany. Long-term loans of British ecclesiastical silver have been encouraged since 1916 in order to illustrate this important aspect of the history of the craft.
European silver and ironwork were actively collected from the start, and outstanding purchases of both medieval and post-medieval objects were made at the sales of great collections, including those of Bernal, Soulages and Soltikoff (the Gloucester Candlestick and Eltenberg Reliquary). J C Robinson collected important examples of Spanish ecclesiastical silver in the second half of the 19th century and a rare group of medieval silver from the Basle Cathedral Treasury, sold by auction in 1836 was later bought by the Museum.
Much of the late 17th - and 18th -century British domestic silver entered the museum after 1900 as gifts and bequests from collectors; these include the Croft Lyons Collection of boxes, the Cropper Collection of bottle tickets, and Late Stuart and Early Georgian silver from C D Rotch.
The collections of jewellery and small work extend from tiaras to tie-pins, and gold watches to pomanders and watches (ca. 14,000 items). Purchases in the 19th century included V&A Collecting 32 Plan 2010 contemporary French jewellery bought in exhibitions in London and Paris, the Castellani Collection of Italian regional jewellery (1868) and the ring collection of the antiquary Edmund Waterton (1870). A superb collection of gemstones, including gems from the Hope Collection, was bequeathed in 1868 by the Reverend Chauncey Hare Townshend. Nearly 600 jewels were given by the scholar and collector Dame Joan Evans between 1933 and 1975. They date largely from before 1800, and complement the magnificent jewellery, mainly of the late 18th and 19th centuries, bequeathed by Lady Cory in 1951. Since the 1970s, 20th -century and contemporary jewellery has been at the centre of acquisition policy, building on the foundations laid by the Circulation Department. A gift by Patricia Goldstein to the American Friends of the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2002 has greatly extended the range of work by leading jewellery houses in Europe and America.
We intend to acquire objects with documented designers, makers or patrons, and which incorporate innovative design or use of material. The English post-medieval silver collection is the largest and most representative in the world, but important additions are still made when appropriate. Adding to the collections of jewellery and gold boxes and watches by purchase and gift is a priority, and we actively collect contemporary silver and base metal.
Ceramics & glass
The ceramics & glass collection contains ca. 80,000 objects, including ceramics and glass from the Western world, stained glass, post-medieval painted enamels on copper, and plastics. The holdings of European tin-glazed pottery, English ceramics 1600-1900, post-medieval glass, tiles, stained glass and 20th-century and contemporary international ceramics and glass are of such size and importance as to be internationally pre-eminent. The Ceramics collection alone is without parallel; by virtue of its size, quality and range it may be considered pre-eminent in its entirety. The Glass collection, now largely housed in the Glass Gallery, is the most comprehensive in Europe, and the stained glass holdings are unparalleled anywhere in the world.
From 1844, the earliest acquisitions focused on contemporary work and Renaissance wares with a ‘fine art’ emphasis. The French porcelain collections were strengthened by the Jones Bequest in 1882. The Schreiber Gift in 1884 laid the foundations for the outstanding collections of 18th- century English porcelain, bolstered by the transfer of objects from the Museum of Practical Geology in 1901. Maiolica and Renaissance and later painted Limoges enamels were strengthened by the Salting Bequest in 1910. The gift of the Wilfred Buckley Collection in 1936 transformed the holding of glass into one of leading international importance. The collections of stained glass, particularly of Medieval and Renaissance pieces, were augmented by the gifts and bequest (1900) of Henry Vaughan, followed by the Morgan Gift in 1919 and the gift of the Ashridge stained glass by E E Cook in 1928. Successive V&A exhibitions have led to acquisitions which make the V&A the first port of call for students and scholars. The resulting collections include the most comprehensive holdings of 20th century Scandinavian ceramics and glass, important ceramics by Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and Bernard Leach; by the designers Keith Murray and Queensberry Hunt; and by potteries such as the Martin Brothers, Pilkington, Ruskin and Poole.
The section has extremely strong holdings in contemporary work. The Glass collection has expanded considerably since the opening of the main Glass Gallery in 1994, with major additions of British, continental, antipodean and, especially, American glass art. The V&A is the only centre in this country for the study and enjoyment of this highly popular art form. Equally the V&A's holdings in contemporary British artist ceramics continue to grow steadily. Most major names are represented by important works, and the Museum maintains its long-held leading position in this highly competitive and active field. The redesign of the Ceramics Galleries in 2009-10 has encouraged collecting in contemporary ceramics and works illustrative of the creative process.
We aim to acquire documented historical pieces where they add to our already pre-eminent collection, and where opportunity and identified needs occur. Changing patterns in historical interpretation and Museum display – as, for example, in the British Galleries – may identify new ‘needs’. We also plan to maintain our tradition of collecting modern and contemporary work to represent technical development and aesthetic fashions in design, to include both the innovative and the commercially successful. Collecting priorities include 19th- and 20th-century ceramics and glass, but we are most active in collecting the contemporary, both British and International.