The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has loaned more than 70 of its medieval treasures—including the famed Becket casket— to an exhibition at the Al Thani Collection space in Paris, which houses and shows works owned by the ruling family of Qatar.
The show, Medieval Treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum: When the English Spoke French opened 30 June (until 22 October), highlighting the “complex and interdependent relationship of England and continental Europe throughout the Middle Ages”, says a statement. It includes sculpture, textiles, ceramics, manuscript illumination, metalwork and jewellery.
Amin Jaffer, the director of the Al Thani Collection and a former V&A curator, says in a statement: “The majority of works shown in this exhibition reflect a time when the rulers of England expressed themselves primarily in French. Indeed, the Norman monarchs who succeeded William the Conqueror remained bound to their origins, establishing French language at court and spreading its use through a newly imposed political, military and ecclesiastical elite from France.”
Other works dispatched by the V&A, in one of its most extensive loan shows in recent years, include the 12th-century Gloucester Candlestick, described as a “masterpiece of English goldsmith work”, and the Syon Cope (1300-20), a cloak worn by a priest covered in red and green silks, which is considered a masterpiece of English embroidery.
The Al Thani Collection, which belongs to Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah, has been on display at a dedicated museum space at the Hôtel de la Marine since late 2021. In 2018, the Al Thani Collection Foundation signed an agreement with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the public body that manages nearly 100 monuments across France, that allows for 400 sq. m of exhibition space at the Hôtel de la Marine for the next 20 years, reportedly in exchange for a €1m rental fee every year.
The terms of the arrangement between the V&A and the Al Thani Collection remain confidential but a spokesperson for the Al Thani Collection says: “As is standard international museum practice for projects such as this, The Al Thani Collection Foundation made an appropriate contribution to cover all costs associated with the staging of the exhibition in Paris.”
James Robinson, the exhibition co-curator and keeper of the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the V&A, says in a statement: “The V&A has a longstanding relationship with His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani and The Al Thani Collection that has led to this collaboration.”
An agreement was reached for the V&A to develop a series of three exhibitions for the Al Thani Collection space at the Hôtel de la Marine, he adds, saying: “We were invited to submit ideas for the first of these exhibitions, on the medieval period, that would showcase some of the museum’s indisputable masterpieces.”