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Posts tagged “Great Exhibition

The Victoria and Albert Museum Part 3: International Exhibitions

The site of the Victoria and Albert Museum was purchased largely through the proceeds from the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was the first international exhibition of its time, though not the last. Many of the wonderful items showcased at these types exhibitions that were held all over Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries eventually found a home at the museum and are still on display today. When walking through the exhibit halls I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt looking for these pieces of history which were seen by millions of people during the course of exhibition and are still breathtakingly beautiful to behold over 160 years later. One of the appeals for me about Steampunk and the era that gave rise to the aesthetic is the emphasis on craftsmanship, and there is no shortage of that at the V&A. Here are two pieces of the most impressive pieces that I encountered during my visit.

This “cathedral in wood” was a gift from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Ferdinand, to Queen Victoria. According to the museum label, it’s decoration reflected the debate about the unification of all German-speaking peoples under one rule. The bookcase had to be at least 20 feet tall, which means it just might hold the entire literary collection of one Steampunk fan 🙂 In the center there is a Belgian altarpiece on display that looked like it had been carved out of the most delicious dark chocolate, but it was also made of wood. These two pieces were not originally shown together, but they both made cameos at the Great Exhibition. The altarpiece reflects the revival of the Gothic style that is often seen in Steampunk works, and makes it a lovely addition to the imposing bookcase.

This symphony in metal is called the Hereford screen, and was on display at the International Exhibition of 1862. Like the altarpiece above, this was a way of harkening back to the Gothic era when churches employed magnificent screens like this one. The choir would stand behind large and ornately carved wooden screens, but this one was intended to showcase new advances in metal-working techniques as much as celebrate the Gothic style. There are several figures on the screen, which is over 10 meters high. The figures could very well have been cast in bronze, but instead were created by using newly-discovered electroplating technology that employed plaster molds and electricity to bend copper to the artist’s will. This is truly an example of old-meets-new in the Victorian era, so it definitely piqued my Steampunk interest.

Have you spotted any pieces of the Great Exhibition or the International Exhibition in London? Please share!


Steamboy (2004) is an Epic Steampunk Adventure out of Japan


When I first ran across a description for a manga Steampunk movie I admit that I was skeptical. But, I am so glad that I got it through Netflix and gave it a shot because it was incredible!

DomeThe director, Katsuhiro Otomo, is best known for his cyberpunk directorial debut Akira in 1988. I have a great respect for graphic artists and animators, and the creators of this film lend all of the attention to detail and breath-taking beauty to the Victorian era as you could hope for. The settings are primarily the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition in London and inside an enormous “steam castle” and they have been rendered with incredible detail.

Otomo takes a few liberties with those pesky historical facts, but you can’t go letting the facts get in the way of a good story 🙂 For instance, Steamboy takes place in 1866, but the Great Exhibition took place in 1851. Likewise you get to see the Tower Bridge totally destroyed, but it was not built until 1894. I recommend you just chalk it up to being an alternative Victorian era and enjoy the ride.

RayThe story centers around a young boy named Ray Steam. He comes from family of talented inventors and has inherited their knack for tinkering. His father, Edward Steam and Grandfather, Lloyd Steam, have been gone for some time working on their inventions, but Ray’s world is turned upside down when his Grandfather sends him a mysterious package with instructions to protect the contents at all costs. Soon after it arrives, representatives of O’Hara Foundation (the wealthy and powerful company that sponsors his family’s work) appear and try to steal it from him. Grandpa Steam gets to Ray in time to tell him of his father’s death and to help him escape the clutches of the O’Hara cronies.

Monowheel from Steamboy

Monowheel from Steamboy

Crystal PalaceThe letter from Grandpa Steam tells Ray to get the steam ball to another inventor, Robert Stephenson. By happy coincidence, Stephenson was on his way to see Ray’s grandfather so he was on the train Ray uses to escape the agents of the O’Hara Foundation. Or, at least that is what they think. But, as the train pulls into the station in London a zeppelin descends and the henchmen use a huge metal arm to capture Ray and take the steam ball to their headquarters at the Crystal Palace. When Ray arrives he finds out that his grandfather lied and his father is still alive and the steam ball is an integral part of a colossal steam-powered castle that is hidden within the walls of the Palace itself.

For a while, Ray works side by side with his father and meets Scarlett, the incredibly spoiled granddaughter of the O’Hara Foundation’s found. Unbeknownst to Ray, his grandfather is being held prisoner inside the steam castle, but he manages to escape. Ray finds him attempting to sabotage the steam castle because he knows its true and nefarious purpose. Ray has to decide where his loyalties lie and whether he is will to be just another cog in his father’s machine.

In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this movie. And don’t give me any of that “I don’t DO anime” or “cartoons are for kids,” because this film can totally stand up against any Hollywood blockbuster simply because it is animated. Illustrators and animators have the freedom to make anything they can imagine actually appear, and the massive scale of this movie would hardly be possible any other way. And never fear, just because it is a Japanese movie doesn’t mean you are doomed to subtitles. Just make sure to change the language setting on the DVD and you can watch the whole thing dubbed in English.