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Aesthetic Otherness, Authenticity and the Roads to Museological Appropriation: Henry Cole's Travel Writing and the Making of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Christopher Whitehead


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This paper examines the travels and travel writing of Henry Cole in the 1850s and considers their importance for the early development of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cole’s travel writing is contextualised both within his career and within the development of practices of art history. Cole’s travels in continental Europe supplied him with objects for the V&A collection and ideas which subsequently influenced the institutional and architectural development of the museum. Cole’s travel journals provided an outlet for reflection on issues relating to heritage and museology and enabled him to frame complex and paradoxical views of foreigness: for example, Cole revered the historical material culture of Italy, but viewed its contemporary condition as degenerate. It is argued that these views provided premises for the V&A’s appropriation of historical foreign material culture. The paper concludes with a brief account of the relationships between travel and the museum; it considers museum interiors in which foreign, historical contexts are recreated, and explores the notion of the museum visit as surrogate or compressed travel.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Whitehead C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Studies in Travel Writing

Year: 2006

Volume: 10

Issue: 1

Pages: 1-26

ISSN (print): 1364-5145

Publisher: White Horse Press