Monday, March 12, 2012

British Museum

Sitting in the café area at the British Museum, having a cup of coffee (cappuccino) and a banana as refreshment after hearing a mini-lecture on the gods and goddesses of Roman England and spending about two hours in the exhibit on Italian Renaissance Drawings.  The exhibit was fascinating and felt like a re-education and review of my favorite period in art. I was first introduced to both technique and appreciation of art during my junior year in France, at the Atelier Julien (where I took drawing and painting every week-day morning), at the Louvre (where I went on innumerable afternoons) and by Proust, who ignited my interest in Botticelli.

4/23/10 - British Museum,
In the courtyard restaurant at the British Museum, having a real “English Tea” – a bit of a splurge, but probably worth it – finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and selected pastries along with Earl Grey tea at L 18.50.
On this trip, I keep thinking of my mother and the bus trip we took to the West End of England – Cornwall – visiting other sites along the way, including Stonehenge.  At the little inn where we stayed in Cornwall, they had clotted cream, which Mom recommended and I found delicious!  I’m having some with my scone right now on her behalf.

Today, I spent more than two hours in the “Enlightenment” gallery, viewing cabinets and drawers and shelves of collectors’ items from the Kunstkamera of British Museum benefactors of the 18th and 19th centuries, including old King George III.  Ancient Greek vases, Paleozoic fossils, navigation instruments, statuettes of gods and goddesses from India and Rome and Egypt and Central America, and Paleolithic hand axes (~400,000 years old) and stuffed birds, and Chinese pottery, and Wedgewood intaglios and gold and silver coins and medals.  All the skilled workmanship that went into producing these items and the thousands more treasures spread around the museum and the millions more in other museums, and in storage sites around the world, or still buried, unexcavated, is utterly unimaginable.
Later, I visited the Assyrian halls with their intricate reliefs of Assyrian kings (Ashurnazipal, Sennechareb) flanked by winged beasts with human heads, cuneiform inscriptions extolling the virtues and feats and valor of the king scrawled across the middle of each panel like the Milky Way across the sky.  The museum was open late yesterday and today, so I now need to see the Greek Parthenon statuary (“Elgin marbles”) before going back to the hotel.  I have still one more day here.

(Later) I did go back later to the galleries on ancient Greece and saw the marble friezes and metopes of the Parthenon (the Elgin marbles) filling one huge, long hallway and another smaller room – yards and yards of marble, tons and tons of marble, most of it in dreadful shape, because these slabs of high-relief marble sculpture are really the debris of the marvelous temple to Athena that had stood intact for over two millennia (although usurped for the worship of other deities) until it was blown up in 1687 during fighting between the Greeks and Turks.  Someone had stored explosives in this venerated ancient site.  How stupid!  Something similar happened to the face of the Egyptian Sphinx, I believe.  Some soldiers (Turkish?) used it for target practice a couple centuries ago.
I took photos of some of the better-preserved blocks, as well as of some other representative sculpture.

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