Donatello: design for a mosaic in the Museum (the 'Kensington Valhalla'); The Kensington Valhalla
- Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)
ca. 1867 (made)
Richard Redgrave, born 1804 - died 1888 (maker)
- Materials and Techniques:
oil on canvas
- Credit Line:
Commissioned for the decoration of the South Kensington Museum
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Oil painting on canvas in colour with gold background in an arched, wooden frame; life size portait of Donatello holding the Martelli Mirror.
Place of Origin
England, Great Britain (made)
ca. 1867 (made)
Richard Redgrave, born 1804 - died 1888 (maker)
Materials and Techniques
oil on canvas
Marks and inscriptions
Height: 264.2 cm estimate, Width: 87.6 cm estimate, Height: 2790 mm wood frame (max), Width: 1000 mm wood frame, Depth: 55 mm wood frame
Object history note
Commissioned for the decoration of the South Court of the South Kensington Museum
Historical significance: No certain contemporary portrait of the Italian Renaissance sculptor Donatello (1386-1466) exists, and little is known of his personality. Redgrave's source for Donatello's appearance is presumably the head and shoulders portrait by Georgio Vasari in the Sala di Cosimo il Vecchio, Florence (which was engraved) and in turn was based on the portrait attributed by some historians to Uccello on a cassone panel known as The Founders of Florentine Art (Louvre, Paris). The 'Uccello' portrait is supposed to be copies from a lost fresco by Masaccio. A nineteenth-century full-length sculpture of Donatello by Girolamo Torrini is in the Loggiato of the Uffizi, Florence (1842-8) and depicts a more youthful figure than 'Uccello's'. Redgrave carries this rejuvenation process further, but the facial features- the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth and beard, and the high well-defined cheekbones -are very similar.
The pose may be an adaptation of a 'Triumphant David'. Even of Donatello's drawing of that subject, the only drawing by Donatello widely accepted as autograph (Musée des Beaux Arts, Rennes). Donatello holds a mallet in his left hand, referring to his work in marble, and wears a pouch full of modelling tools for his work in terracotta. In his right hand he holds the bronze 'Martelli' mirror (8717-1863), purchased as a Donatello by the Museum in 1863; this may not only refer to the Museum's recent and important acquisition, but also to Donatello's own history, as according to Vasari's Vita he was brought up by the Martelli family. The mirror is now considered to be North Italian and late fifteenth century.
In addition to being a painter, Richard Redgrave (1804-1888) was one of the most distinguished administrators of the Victorian era. He was the first Keeper of the paintings collection at the South Kensington Museum and between 1857 and 1880 was Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. Along with Cole he was a driving force in the reform of art education. Redgrave held several positions in the Government School of Design, including headmaster, art superintendent and inspector-general for art.
Historical context note
Commissioned between 1862 and 1871, the 'Kensington Valhalla' (so named by The Builder, an allusion to the eternal home of heroes in Norse mythology) is a series of life-size portraits of famous artists. These portraits, executed in mosaic, were made to fit into the arcade niches that ran round the upper level of the South Court of the Museum. The Valhalla included not only painters and sculptors, such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello, but also figures from the applied arts such as the potter Bernard Palissy. The project had a self-validatory function: it reflected the established canon of great artists, predominantly those of the Italian Renaissance, whose work the museum was collecting where possible. But by including craftsmen within the pantheon, Henry Cole and the South Kensington Museum modified and expanded this canon, asserting their belief in the connection between the fine and applied arts - a tenet which lay at the heart of the institution.
A number of established contemporary artists were approached to produce highly-finished oil-painted portraits on which the mosaics could be based. As early as January 1862, Daniel Maclise was offered a payment of £70, although his name does not figure among the artists whose work was eventually translated into mosaic. Also invited but not ultimately to participate were William Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown and, perhaps most surprisingly, James McNeill Whistler. Of the participants, Frederic Leighton, E.J. Poynter and G.F. Watts were the highest profile painters commissioned for the project, with Val Prinsep, F. R. Pickersgill, Charles West Cope, Eyre Crowe and William Frederick Yeames, all historical genre painters, in the next rank.
In addition to these external commissions, a high proportion - almost a third - of the artists involved in the project were employed by the Museum or the School of Art. Godfrey Sykes, who designed two portraits (although only one was used), had been recruited by Henry Cole in 1859 to assist with decorative schemes, and became a key figure in the decoration of the Museum buildings; he devised the elaborate scheme of decoration in the South Court. Sykes's principal assistants, Reuben Townroe and James Gamble, both designed Valhalla portraits (although only Townroe's was used). Francis Moody, who designed three portraits, was employed at the Museum as another of Sykes's assistants, helping to carry out the decoration of the Museum and heading a team of student workers. Richard Burchett, who designed four portraits, was the Headmaster of the Art School at South Kensington, and Eyre Crowe, who designed two, had acted since 1859 as occasional examiner and inspector there. Richard Redgrave, responsible for one portrait, was the first Keeper of the paintings collection at the Museum, and held several positions in the Art School including Headmaster. Henry Bowler, also responsible for one portrait, was the Museum's Inspector for Art then later Assistant Director for Art. William Bell Scott, who had taught at the Department of Science and Art-run Newcastle School of Art for twenty years, acted as an examiner in the 1860s.
The Valhalla itself includes many famous artists, but there are also one or two of some obscurity. Phidias and Apelles were the pre-eminent sculptor and painter of Greek Antiquity. The rest are European artists of the Middle Ages and later, mostly painters. The sculptors include Nicola Pisano, Ghiberti, Donatello, Luca della Robbia, who specialised in glazed and coloured terracotta sculpture, Michelangelo and the English Grinling Gibbons. Jean Goujon was a 16th-century French sculptor who worked on the earliest part of the Louvre. There are only three architects, and all, oddly, are English: William of Wykeham (who was in fact a patron of architects rather than a practitioner), Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren.
There are also three ceramic artists. Fra Beato Giacomo da Ulma seems almost unknown in art history outside this Valhalla, but is said to have been a Dominican Friar of the late 15th and early 16th centuries who painted on glass at Bologna. Better documented are the majolica painter Maestro Giorgio of Gubbio and Bernard Palissy, the French potter of the 16th century, known for his enamelled earthenware encrusted with modelled reptiles. Three metalworkers might equally well be regarded as sculptors: William Torrel, who made the bronze effigies of Henry II and Queen Eleanor in Westminster Abbey in the 1290s; Torrigiano, the Italian Renaissance sculptor who made the monument to Henry VII and his Queen in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey; and Peter Vischer of Nuremberg, who made the bronze monument to St Sebald, in the church of St Sebald in Nuremberg.
Netherlandish art is represented solely by Lancelot Blondeel, sculptor and painter of Bruges; a design for a portrait of Jan van Eyck by Francis Moody seems never to have been executed. There are ten Italian painters of the Renaissance; one German, Hans Holbein; and one Spanish, Velásquez. The two English painters are Hogarth and Reynolds.
Where possible, artists were matched with sitters appropriate to their own work. So Leighton was commissioned to paint Cimabue, the subject of his first major work, Cimabue's Madonna carried through Florence which had brought his work to prominence for the first time when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1855; Edward Armitage, a vigorous promoter of mural painting, was commissioned to paint the greatest muralist of the Italian Renaissance, Benozzo Gozzoli; and Poynter, who had made his name with compositions of classical subjects, was matched with the Ancient Greeks Apelles and Phidias.
Because of the uniformity demanded by a large portrait series, the artists' poses and gestures are mostly invented. The faces, hair and headgear are mostly derived, or adapted, from printed sources, in particular the woodcuts which illustrate Vasari's Lives of the Artists, or in the case of later artists, engravings after portraits or self-portraits. The costume details of the Italian Renaissance artists are taken from one of the published compilations of historical costume which were popular with historical genre painters, whilst the costumes of later artists is usually taken from printed portraits.
The mosaics themselves remained in place in the South Court until 1949, when they were taken down and stored. Some are now on display in other galleries of the museum. Currently the paintings made as full-scale designs for these mosaics are displayed in various locations in the Museum, including the Lecture Theatre, the staircase to the west of the Grand Entrance and the landing outside the entrance to the National Art Library.
Oil on Canvas, life-size portrait of Donatello, ca. 1867, Richard Redgrave, England.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
'Mosaics in the South Kensington Museum, The Illustrated London News. (30 March 1867) John Physick, The Victoria and Albert Museum: the history of its building, London: V&A Publications (1982) pp. 62-69. Ronald Parkinson in Malcolm Baker and Brenda Richardson (eds.) A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications (1997), no.52, pp. 174-77.
Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Ronald Parkinson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1990, p. 245
This is the full text of the catalogue entry:
"REDGRAVE, Richard, CB, RA (1804-1888)
Born Pimlico, London, 30 April 1804, the son of an engineer and manufacturer, in whose office he first worked as draughtsman and designer. Entered RA Schools 1826. Worked as a drawing master in the 1830s. Exhibited 141 works at the RA between 1825 and 1883, 17 at the BI 1832-59, and 20 (including four watercolours) at the SBA 1829-35 and 1870-9. Early works were landscapes and costume pieces, mainly l8thcentury and in the manner of C R Leslie; from the 1840s he specialised in modem genre and social comment, before returning to landscape, particularly around his home in Abinger, Surrey, relieving the pressure of his administrative duties. Elected ARA 1840, RA 1851; Secretary of the Etching Club 1837-42. In 1847 he began his official career in art education as Master at the Government School of Design, becoming Head Master in 1848, Art Superintendent 1852, Inspector General 1857, and Director 1874. He was Inspector of the Queen's Pictures, compiling a catalogue of the Royal Collection, 1857-79. As he wrote in 1856: 'I regret to find that I am so identified with office work that it is almost forgotten that I am a painter'
(F M Redgrave Richard Redgrave: A Memoir. . . p l 71 ). He published An Elementary Manual of Colourr ... (1853), The Sheepshanks Gallery (1870), and, most famously, with his brother Samuel, A Century of Painters of the English School ... (2 vols, 1866). He was offered a Knighthood in 1869, which he declined; created Companion of the Bath 1880. Died Kensington, London, 14 December 1888. His daughters Frances (who compiled the Memoir of her father) and Evelyn were also exhibiting artists.
LIT: Art Journal 1850, pp48-9 (referred to below as the 'autobiography'), with engr portrait; Art JournaI1859, p206; Athenaeum 22 December 1888, pp854-5 (obit); F M Redgrave Richard Redgrave, CB, RA: A Memoir compiled from his diary 1891 (referred to below as Memoir); F G Stephens in Magazine of Art XV, 1891-2, pp26-9; ed S Casteras and R Parkinson Richard Redgrave 1804-1888 1988, V &A and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA, exhibition catalogue
1707 -1869 Neg HA5032
Canvas, 264.2 X 87.6 cm (104 X 34½ins)
Signed 'RR' in monogram on plinth, and inscribed 'Richard Redgrave RA' on br of gold background
Transferred to the Department 1921
For details of the history and circumstances of the commission see under Richard Burchett 1762-1869, p14. Redgrave's design was translated into English ceramic mosaic by Samuel Cooper, superintended by William E Alldridge for Minton, Hollins & Company; it was finished in 1867.
No certain contemporary portrait of the Italian Renaissance sculptor Donatello (1386-1466) exists, and little is known of his personality. Redgrave's source for Donatello's appearance is presumably the head and shoulders portrait by Giorgio Vasari in the Sala di Cosimo il Vecchio, Florence, which was engraved and which in turn was based on the portrait attributed by some historians to Uccello on a cassone panel known as 'The Founders of Florentine Art' (Louvre, Paris). The Uccello portrait is supposed to be copied from a lost fresco by Masaccio. A 19th-century full-length sculpture of Donatello by Girolamo Torrini is in the Loggiato of the Uffizi, Florence (1842-8) and depicts a more youthful figure than Uccello's. Redgrave carries this rejuvenation process further, but the facial features the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth and beard, and the high well-defined cheekbones - are very similar.
The pose may be an adaptation of a 'Triumphant David', even of Donatello's drawing of that subject, the only drawing by Donatello widely accepted as autograph (Musee des Beaux Arts, Rennes). Donatello holds a mallet in his left hand, referring to his work in marble, and wears a pouch full of modelling tools for his work in terracotta. In his right hand he holds the bronze 'Martelli' mirror, purchased as a Donatello by the museum in 1863; this may not only refer to the museum's recent and important acquisition, but also to Donatello's own history, as according to Vasari's Vita he was brought up by the Martelli family. The mirror is now considered to be north Italian and late-15th-centurv.
EXH: Richard Redgrave 1804-1888 V&A and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1988 (113, and 165 for an electrotype of the Martelli mirror)
LIT: Casteras and Parkinson ppI40-1, 165 (repr)
REPR: M Allthorpe-Guyton A Happy Eye: a school of art in Norwich 1845-1982 1982, p55
Julius Bryant, ed. Art and Design for All. The Victoria and Albert Museum London: V&A Publishing, 2011. ISBN: 9781851776665.
The Victoria and Albert Museum: Art and Design For All (Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest 14/06/2012-16/09/2012)
The Victoria and Albert Museum: Art and Design For All (Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn 18/11/2011-15/04/2012)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)
Wood; Oil paint; Canvas