There are a thousand details there that should be captured in high-resolution for the millions who will never come to London: sandalwood screens, glazed tiles from Damascus, a bubbling fountain in the famous Arab Hall, a hidden alcove, a trick fireplace, a skylight, a dome, a secret door for posting oversized paintings from inside to outside, secret entrances for the models to use, stained glass windows, silk divans, chandeliers, Turkish carpets, velvet drapes, sculptures, statues, plaster casts and peacock feathers galore.
|Actor playing Lord Leighton for the YouTube tour|
|Cover of the exhibition guide|
|Godward Study 1913|
Pete: ‘There was a lot of gauze in the air in those days… a tiny little wisp of gauze that always lands on the appropriate place. Always the wind blows a little bit of gauze over you-know-where…’
Dud: ‘Course it must be a million to once chance that the gauze lands in the right place at the right time. I'll bet there's thousands of paintings that we're not allowed to see because the gauze hadn't landed on the right place.’
Well, Pete and Dud, A Victorian Obsession at Leighton House is the place to go if you want to see some of the paintings sans gauze. In fact, according to the audio guide the first actual public glimpse of female pubic hair in British art is flaunted by Poynter’s Andromeda writhing on her rock in 1869.
|The Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema 1888|
|I'd love to know who this guy is...|
Confession: I love Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
|Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema|
|Returning Home from Market by Alma-Tadema 1865|
|Two paintings by Alma-Tadema not usually seen|
|An Exedra by Lawrence Alma-Tadema 1871|
A Victorian Obsession is like a gorgeous box of chocolate liqueurs. Some of the bon-bons are overpowering, a few cloying, and one is a giant chocolate covered piece of rose-flavoured Turkish Delight, but plenty are truly delicious and will make a visit worth your while. Don’t gulp them down. Stand in front of the ones you like and nibble at them, letting them dissolve on your tongue. And if you really don’t like Victorian chocolates, I can guarantee you will love the box they come in.
UPDATE! A new exhibition, Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity will show from 7 July - 29 October 2017.
Caroline Lawrence writes history-mystery books for kids.