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Somerset House is remembered by most of the current older generation as the location for family records, births, marriages and deaths. But now this gem of architecture has been magnificently restored and is now open as a museum for decorative arts and culture. Somerset House was built in 1775 on the site of the Tudor palace originally built in 1547 for the Duke of Somerset. The huge building was originally designed to house public offices including the Navy Board and learned societies
Now on Permanent display is the magnificent Gilbert Collection. Sir Arthur Gilbert an American millionaire born in London began collecting precious items in 1960, assembling a collection of 850 rare and valuable objects. The collection is valued at over £100 million and is now on public view in a sequence of 17 galleries. The collection was gifted to the Nation in 1996, as he felt it should return to the country of his birth.
The exhibition is stunning and my impression was wonder at how one person could assemble such a fabulous collection of art, jewels and precious metals in such a relatively short time. Even though he was a millionaire how did he acquire the time and the huge funds of cash required to purchase such a grand collection.
Sir Arthur first started to collect English silver and then progressed to Italian mosaics, gold boxes, Portrait miniatures and Roman glass mosaics amongst others.
The micro mosaics are particularly fascinating, while normal mosaics were assembled from squares of stone, marble, terra-cotta and glass. The micro versions are created from strips of glass known as "small filati", to produce elaborate scenes and landscapes of superb colour, quality and fine detail. Also reproductions of mythological scenes and classical masterpieces were common, much valued as souvenirs by wealthy people and aristocrats taking the Grand Tour.