Albert, Prince Francis (Albert) Augustus Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Saxony and Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

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Albert, Prince Francis (Albert) Augustus Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Saxony and Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819–61). Born at Schloss Rosenau, near Coburg, Prince Albert married the young Queen Victoria in 1840, and was created Prince Consort in 1857. In 1841 he chaired the Royal Commission to oversee the decorations of the new Palace of Westminster that were to act as a catalyst to improve the quality of British art, design, and manufactures. The Prince joined the Society of Arts and became its President in 1843; in this capacity he encouraged the application of science and art to industrial purposes. Around this time two important figures, ( Sir) Henry Cole and Professor Ludwig Grüner (1801–82), became closely involved with the Prince. The latter acted as art-adviser, encouraging a taste for Renaissance polychromy, grotesques, and the Rundbogenstil that were to be so influential in the buildings at South Kensington. The former became Chairman of the Society of Arts, and promoted model designs commissioned from artists which coined the term ‘art manufactures’: he was an energetic organizer, becoming Prince Albert's chief lieutenant for the remarkable Great Exhibition of 1851 in Paxton's Crystal Palace, of which the Prince was an enthusiastic promoter.

Albert was also President of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, and helped to encourage the building of exemplary dwellings: the Society erected four ‘Model Houses for Families’ as part of the 1851 Exhibition, designed by Henry Roberts and paid for by the Prince. Later, Albert proposed using the profits of the Great Exhibition to found an establishment where science and art could be applied to industry of all nations. This was the beginning of South Kensington, a complex of museums, scientific institutions, and places of learning, known as Albertopolis, which had at its nucleus the Schools of Design. The Victoria & Albert Museum, a national museum of fine and applied art, is probably the Prince's greatest memorial.

As an influence on architecture the Prince was significant. Not only was polychromy favoured from the late 1840s, but many of Grüner's other Italianizing enthusiasms took root. Albert himself was involved in a number of design projects, including the Italianate Osborne House, IoW (with the London builder Thomas Cubitt from 1845), the Royal Dairy at the Model Farms at Windsor, alterations at Buckingham Palace, and Balmoral Castle (an essay in the Scottish Baronial style executed by William Smith (1817–91) of Aberdeen). However, Prince Albert's importance in the history of design lies in the immense improvements that became apparent from the time of the 1862 London Exhibition, which he encouraged, but did not live to see realized.

Bibliography

Ames (1967);
J. Curl (1983);
Hobhouse (1983);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Rhodes James (1983);
Scheele (1977)