15 February 2008

British Museum

Heather was looking forward to the Victoria & Albert Museum, but we were both rather disappointed. She had planned on the textiles exhibit, but it wasn't what she expected, and I was just along for the ride. But when we spent less than an hour there, we suddenly had extra time on our hands. On a whim, we went to the British Museum.

One thing I was looking forward to was the Sutton Hoo exhibit, and have ever since I was teaching twelfth grade English and the Sutton Hoo mask was on the cover of the textbook. These pieces were found in an Anglo-Saxon ship burial and are in quite good condition given their age--about 1400 years. I just think it looks cool.

Another familiar sight was the chess pieces--we saw the Lewis Chessmen in Sydney two years ago. Our favourite is the berserker who's chewing on his shield. Only a few made the trip to Sydney, but the British Museum has a bunch of them. A replica Lewis chess set is available for purchase for about $200, but if that's too much, the Harry Potter set is also based on the Lewis Chessmen for half the price, if you don't mind red and white pieces.

Of course one of Heather's favourite exhibits was the cat. This particular piece was in a private collection for years and it's owner did a little touch up work, which I think was quite daring for such a rare and valuable piece that is about 2600 years old. His work included a paint job and a bit of minor surgery to insert a metal pin in it.

I particularly enjoy Egyptian art, especially sculpture. This is Ramesses II, and he is over six and a half feet across at the shoulders, so he's a big dude. I think Egyptian art is so clean and elegant. Other pieces included hawks, sphinxes, griffons and a giant scarab beetle.

One of the British Museum's prizes is the famous Rosetta Stone: a true piece of history. I was surprised at its size--I was expecting your average tablet, but it's almost four feet tall. You can get an idea of scale in the picture below, and the last picture is a close-up of the hieroglyphics engraved on it. Truly a remarkable exhibit.


As Heather and I were discussing the museum, she asked what I thought about it. I have mixed feelings. The exhibits were amazing, and we only saw a portion of them. But I also said that it is a monument to British imperialism. There are works from Egypt, Greece, Rome, South America, China. . . And much of it was simply taken. Shouldn't most of this be returned to its home country? So I don't know what to think.

But as we left the museum, we observed an interesting piece of irony. Right across the street from the Monument to British Imperialism is the Symbol of American Imperialism.

A Starbucks cafe.

1 comment:

Trinity said...

the pictures look amazing and make me want to go. i'm actually on my way out the door to read a little hieroglyphics over a hot chocolate at starbucks--similar to your day at the museum i guess. -jonathan