09:58AM, Friday 21 July 2017
What do you give as a gift to someone who has celebrated more than 90 birthdays, lives in a castle and has an enviable collection of jewels and art?
Vouchers probably aren’t going to cut it.
The answer can be found in the new Royal Gifts exhibition, on display at Buckingham Palace as part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms to the public.
More than 250 objects from 100 countries are going on show, including gifts given during State Visits, overseas tours and official engagements, as well as those presented to mark significant milestones in the Queen’s life.
As the longest-reigning and most travelled British monarch, Her Majesty has undertaken more than 250 overseas visits, and in 2016 alone she carried out more than 300 official engagements across the UK.
This is reflected in the exhibition, which contains examples of industry, symbols of nations and references to historical relationships.
Curator Sally Goodsir has been working on it for about the last 18 months, using items kept at the royal residences including Windsor Castle.
“I’ve tried to go as global as possible so there are a lot of international gifts,” she said.
“I’ve tried to focus things as much as possible on craftsmanship from the countries.”
An example of this is one of Sally’s personal favourite objects in the exhibition, the beaded Yoruba throne presented to the Queen by the people of Nigeria in 1956.
Beads are considered a sign of worth and status in Yoruba culture and the motifs hold spiritual meanings, including respect for ancestors.
“It’s really colourful and visually fun but it has a significant meaning,” said Sally, who is based at St James’ Palace.
Gifts presented to the Queen from around the world to mark occasions in her life, such as birthdays and jubilees, often symbolise or make reference to the personal relationship she has with the nation. In 2016 for her 90th birthday, Salt Island, one of the British Virgin Islands, presented the Queen with a linen bag containing salt. It reflected the tradition, reintroduced in 2015, of the island paying the monarch an annual rent of a pound of salt on her birthday.
State visits are also a good excuse for gift-giving; for example in October 2015 President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China gave the Queen ‘The Vessel of Friendship’ during a visit to Buckingham Palace. The model of the ‘treasure ship’ sailed by the 15th-century Chinese navigator and diplomat Zeng. He is decorated with a dove, an olive branch medallion and traditional Chinese symbols of friendship and peace.
Royal Gifts also features plenty of examples of objects presented to the Queen which are closer to home. They include a bronze maquette of a statue of the monarch on horseback, which is a copy of the statue unveiled in Windsor Great Park in October 2003.
There is also a glass plaque engraved with an aerial view of the flight path above Windsor Castle by Laurence Whistler, which was presented to the Queen by the British Airports Authority in 1969, on the opening of Heathrow Terminal 1.
The heaviest gift the Queen has received, which, for obvious reasons, doesn’t feature in the exhibition is the 100-foot totem pole which stands in Windsor Great Park. Carved from a single log of Western Red Cedar, it was given to the Queen by the people of British Columbia to mark the centenary of the Canadian province in 1958. A smaller totem pole, presented to the Queen during a visit to Canada in 1971, is included.
More recent examples of gifts presented to the monarch include a Buckingham Palace London Underground sign, given to her during a visit to Aldgate East Tube Station in 2010. The most recent, according to Sally, is a boomerang given to the Queen earlier this year when she launched the Commonwealth Games 2018 baton relay.
It can be revealed today (Friday) that the exhibition will also pay special tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, in the 20th anniversary year of her death, with a special display.
The centrepiece is the desk at which the princess worked in her sitting room at Kensington Palace, but it also includes personal belongings such as her ballet shoes, a case of her cassette tapes including the likes of George Michael and Sir Elton John, and framed photos of friends and family.
Many of the objects on display were personally selected by the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Royal Gifts opens to visitors tomorrow (Saturday) and runs until October 1. Sally has also written a book to accompany the exhibition, which will be available to buy at the palace.
Visit www.royalcollection.org.uk for details.
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