Weekend At The British Museum

That makes it sound like I stayed the entire weekend at the museum! If only...

British Museum

After way too long, I finally had a weekend away, all to myself. Boys were happy to care for Neil, so I could have a break.

I decided to keep things straightforward and picked London and the British Museum. What helped the decision was a talk being held at the museum – ‘Ancient Myth in the Modern World’. The discussion was led by Bettany Hughes with Madeline Miller and Kamila Shamsie. I’d just read ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller and was excited to hear her talking about it. I’ll review the book next week.

This was the first time I’d attended a talk at the museum. All three women wore their knowledge lightly, making for a heartily entertaining discussion. At no point did any of them talk down to us; the assumption was we were as aware of the classics as they were.

Obviously, I’ve been to the museum enough times before, but this was the first time I was there on my own. It was bliss, wandering around with no agenda. I’d already decided I would spend Saturday in Egypt and Greece after making my way around the Waddesdon Bequest, which I’d not seen yet.

The Waddesdon Bequest is a collection of about 300 objects, left to the museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild in 1898. It’s meant to document the history of collecting.

I apologise that some of the pictures aren’t that good. It seemed like a good idea at the time not to take my camera (!) but it didn’t take long for me to regret that decision. Had to rely on my phone camera…

These are book covers! Rare survivors of the Reformation, ‘they decorated the Book of Epistles and the Gospels on the altar of the Gothic Minster in Ulm’.

Book covers

This is the Holy Thorn Reliquary. In 1239 in Constantinople, King Louis IX of France acquired the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus; it cost him about half the annual expenditure of France! Then, sometime in the 14th century, Jean, duc de Berry, commissioned this reliquary to house one of the thorns. The thorn is in the middle, mounted on the sapphire, in front of the figure of Jesus.

Holy Thorn Reliquary

A hunting calendar (1600-1620), Germany, engraved with the names and figures of different game animals and hunting dogs.

Hunting calendar

This depicts subjects from the ‘Aeneid’ (about 1540-50); Neptune calms the winds.

Subjects from the 'Aeneid'

Miniature altar piece, dated 1511, carved with scenes from the life and Passion of Christ.

Miniature altar piece
Miniature altar piece - detail

Love these horses, part of the Parthenon...

Part of Parthenon

‘The Mausoleum at Halikarnassos was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The modern word for a monumental tomb derives from the Latin form of Maussollos’ name’. Maussollos was a member of the Hekatomnid dynasty who governed Karia in south-west Asia Minor. He came to power in 377BC, by which time Karia was a distant part of the already weakening Persian empire. Maussollos succeeded in creating a virtual kingdom and established a new capital at Halikarnassos.
This is a forepart of a colossal chariot horse from the quadriga, a four-horse chariot group; it was positioned on the summit of the mausoleum. The original bronze bridle and bit remain on the horse.

Chariot horse

I never tire of taking pictures of the Great Court...

Interior - Great Court
Exterior of the Reading Room

Exterior of the Reading Room

Reading Room seen from Egypt gallery

Reading Room seen from Egypt gallery

Window into the Reading Room

Window into the Reading Room

Tennyson quote etched on the floor of the Great Court
Stairs to the side of the Reading Room

On Sunday, I spent time in Medieval Europe and India. I saved India for last because of the extensive refurbishment that had taken place last year; I was excited to see how different it was to what I remembered.

Looking down at stairs leading up to Europe galleries

Looking down at stairs leading up to Europe galleries

This two-handed sword of state (about 1473-83) was used by the Prince of Wales at royal ceremonies. ‘The steel blade was commissioned in Germany and bears the mark of two running wolves. Along the edge of the handle are invocations to the Virgin Mary’.

Sword of State

A lion-shaped door knocker (about 1200), part of the fittings of a church. ‘By grasping it, a wrong-doer sought the protection of the Church and accepted whatever punishment was imposed’.

Lion head door knocker

The Dunstable Swan Jewel (about 1400) was found in a Dominican priory in Dunstable. ‘It may have been worn to indicate an allegiance to the de Bohun family or to the House of Lancaster. King Henry IV took the symbol of the swan when he married Mary de Bohun in 1380’.

Dunstable Swan Jewel

Tristram and Isolde casket (about 1180-1200), one of the earliest representations of the medieval story.

Tristram and Isolde casket

Three counters known as ‘tablemen’ (about 1180-1200), used in a game similar to backgammon.

'Tablemen' pieces used in a game similar to backgammon

The Savernake Horn, a hunting-horn from Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, carved from an elephant tusk and decorated with enamelled silver panels.

The Savernake hunting-horn

Entering the South Asia section, the first thing that catches the eye is this gorgeous set of dragon tiles from the Ming Dynasty. These dragons were part of a garden screen that originally ran along the ridge of a building

Ming Dynasty dragon wall tiles
Chinese dragon tiles - detail

This stunning sculpture by the Bengali sculptor, Mrinalini Mukherjee, ‘suggests a female form… it has been built up using lengths of thin, folded clay lending it an organic quality, and is partly glazed’.

Sculpture

The temples of the Hoysala Dynasty, which ruled the southwestern Deccan between 1006 and 1346, are quite distinctive and featured voluptuous female bracket figures that were placed at an angle between the temple wall and roof. The stone panel of elephant and riders is another distinctive example.

Hoysala Temple figures
Hoysala Temple figures
Stone panel of elephant and riders, Hoysala temple

This carved ammonite fossil is known as a ‘Shalagram’; it’s believed to be a naturally occurring form of Vishnu, representing his discus weapon, the ‘chakra’. These ‘fossilised marine molluscs are found in the Kali Gandaki River in western Nepal.’ This particular example has been carved on one side with an image of Vishnu lying on the cosmic serpent, Ananta.

Carved ammonite fossil

‘Shiva dakshinamurti’ – ‘the god sits at ease in a position known as facing south. High in the Himalayas, where he resides on Mount Kailash, he turns to his devotees (the south is towards India) and teaches’. I love the serene expression on his face; it’s as if he really is looking down and smiling at you.

Statue of Shiva

Next visit, I’ll take in the rest of the gallery – the Amaravati Shrine and China at the other end.

Couldn’t leave without treating myself to the usual – a couple of books:

'Confronting the Classics' by Mary Beard
HP Lovecraft

Hyper Japan 2017

Another year, another Hyper Japan, our 5th time at the Japanese festival, which was on this weekend just gone. We went on the Friday, as we always do.

Hyper Japan banner

The venue was different, though they have used it for their Christmas Market before, but it was our first time at Tobacco Dock in the Docklands area of London’s East End. It was easy to get to, on the underground from Waterloo station then about a 10minute walk from Wapping Station.

Barrels and boar head decorations over gateway
Tobacco Docks

I’d never been to this part of London before; it seemed to be a mix of affordable housing alongside obviously expensive buildings. We weren’t that far from Whitechapel; if we’d had the time, I wouldn’t have minded having a bit of a nosy there.

I have to admit, I enjoyed the building more than the festival itself. Tobacco Dock was built around about 1811 as a store for, you guessed it, imported tobacco. The original complex was huge; it’s walls surrounded 70 acres of buildings, quays and jetties! What remains is less than half the original.

Tobacco Dock plaque

In the 1980s, it was modernised with the aim to turn it into a shopping arcade. The brick building’s original Victorian shell was retained with its brick vaults and ironwork, while shops were built over two floors. Two ships were built specially as children’s play areas and to teach them about piracy. Interestingly, the ships were designed and named after real ships. Unfortunately, after about six years later, the shopping arcade and surrounding area had turned into a ghost town.

Didn't get a good view of the other ship, but I think this one was based on ‘The Three Sisters’, which was a trade ship built in 1788 at the nearby Blackwall Yard. It imported spices and tobacco from the East and West Indies.

Model of 'The Three Sisters' outside the venue

For me, the layout of the place didn’t serve the festival well. What I’ve always enjoyed about Hyper Japan was the openness. Apart from feeling inclusive and welcoming, it was easy to see where things were, making your shopping/browsing experience straightforward and easy.

The layout at Tobacco Dock was a little confusing, and I spent a lot of time walking back and forth, trying to remember where certain shops were. Most of them were tucked away in what would have been the different shops when the place was a shopping arcade. To add to the confusion, each ‘shop’ had numerous stalls in them, which you could only see when you entered the shop.

Interior of ground floor
Inside Tobacco Dock
Inside...
The upper level

The upper level

Also, the entertainment acts were tucked away, some in a room on the ground floor and most of the live acts in a room on the second floor. Unless you actually went in, you couldn’t see or hear them. Some acts were out amongst the people, but the small stages and poor acoustics didn’t help. At other venues, the acts were part of the whole experience because they weren’t tucked away; the stages were out in the open amongst the other stalls, and you could hear/see them whether you were interested or not.

At the end of the day, I was left feeling like I’d visited a shopping mall, and I’m not a big fan of shopping malls. I didn’t take that many pictures, even though there were some fantastic cosplayers.

The boys had a good time, although they weren’t too keen on the venue either. But they were pleasantly surprised with what they bought, none of which had even featured on their to-buy list.

For all that whinging, I’m glad we went. We got to see, albeit briefly, a part of London we’ve never been to, and we got to spend the day together. We’re still planning on going next year… finger’s crossed, they decide to change the venue. Again.

Looking down from the upper level at the stalls below

Looking down from the upper level at the stalls below

Stalls on the ground level
I think this was the saké shop

I think this was the saké shop

Inside one of the shops; you can see how low the ceilings are, all part of the original building

Inside one of the shops; you can see how low the ceilings are, all part of the original building

The boys eyeing up potential loot

The boys eyeing up potential loot

A rickshaw
Kimono with sword
Shop exterior

These statues are by the north entrance. The world’s largest exotic pet store in the late 1800s, Jamrach’s Animal Emporium, was located nearby. It’s owner, Charles Jamrach, was born in Germany. He moved to London and became a leading importer, exporter and breeder of animals. I spent a long time wondering why the name, Jamrach, seemed familiar. I had to look it up; it was he who provided the London Zoological Gardens with the grey wolf that subsequently escaped in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.

Bear statue by north entrance

The plaque under this bear statue reads:
Over a hundred years ago on what was then called Ratcliffe Highway near to this spot stood Jamrach’s Emporium. This unique shop sold not only the most varied collection of curiosities but also traded in wild animals such as alligators, tigers, elephants, monkeys and birds. Jamrach’s was known to seafarers throughout the world who, when their ship docked in London, would bring artefacts from distant lands in the knowledge that Mr Jamrach would be a willing purchaser. The animals were housed in iron cages and were well looked after until they were bought by zoological institutes and naturalist collectors.

Statue of tiger and boy

The one for this statue of a tiger and boy:
In the early years of the nineteenth century a full grown Bengal tiger, having just arrived at Jamrach’s Emporium, burst open his wooden transit box and quietly trotted down the road. Everybody scattered except an eight year old boy, who, having never seen such a large cat, went up to it with the intent of stroking his nose. A tap of the great soft paw stunned the boy and, picking him up by his jacket, the tiger walked down a side alley. Mr Jamrach, having discovered the empty box, came running up, and thrusting his bare hands down the tiger’s throat, forced the beast to let his captive go. The little boy was unscathed and the subdued tiger was led back to his cage.
Apparently the boy sued Mr Jamrach and was awarded £300 in damages.

Different view of tiger and boy statue

Back home, and the loot on display. First, my stuff - a pendant and 2 art prints:

Pendant
'Blue Fighter'

'Blue Fighter'

'Tune'

'Tune'

Gordon's loot...

Loot from Hyper Japan

The colourful box in the middle is to do with something they’ve recently discovered, and which Gordon is really into. It’s a very popular programme in Japan called Kamen Rider; it’s been going on for years and has so many different forms. The toys are made for children but are so detailed with so much electronics packed in, I’m not surprised that adults collect them. Gordon was not expecting to find any Kamen Rider stuff at all. When he saw this, I thought he was about to pass out!

Gordon's very first anime, Sailor Moon; he still enjoys it.

Gordon's very first anime, Sailor Moon; he still enjoys it.

Treated him to this t-shirt - Spidey is his all-time favourite superhero

Treated him to this t-shirt - Spidey is his all-time favourite superhero

Liam’s loot; not as much, but he was being sensible with his money and he really wanted the Saber statue from his favourite anime, ‘Fate’.

Liam's stuff
Bought this for Liam

Bought this for Liam

This figure, Scáthach, features in another part of the ‘Fate’ universe. Like most of the characters, she’s based on a real person, a legendary Scottish warrior and martial arts teacher who trained Cú Chulainn, the hero of Ulster.
I find the attention to detail on these statues stunning.

Scáthach figurine
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I confess to going a teeny bit overboard taking pictures of his Saber statue - the way the movement has been captured is just stunning.
The sword on the ground is Excalibur, and she’s holding the form of Excalibur known in the ‘Fate’ story as Invisible Air - it hides Excalibur's form and conceals her true identity, Arthur. Yes, a female Arthur. And it works! So cleverly done, I think, and she’s my favourite character.

Saber statue
Her boot in the steel pin is all that's holding her aloft

Her boot in the steel pin is all that's holding her aloft

Top view of Saber
Saber wielding Excalibur

The Sunday Section: Travel - Christmas Lights in London

Not just Christmas lights but a few touristy pictures as well…

This statue, entitled ‘The Meeting Place’, is at St Pancras station; it has its fair share of admirers and haters. Personally, I like it, especially the frieze that encircles the base.

The roof of St Pancras station

Close by is the British Library... These ‘bookcases’ reach up to the ceiling and go all the way down to the lower level.

The day was nice enough to take a leisurely walk to Covent Garden. Not much further is Leicester Square and Chinatown, then Trafalgar Square with Nelson's Column and the National Gallery. Between Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square is the statue of Edith Cavell...

Can't remember the name of this pub but I liked the ceiling...

The good thing about dark descending early is you don’t have to wait too long to see the lights… Covent Garden; Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street, and the statue of Anteros, Greek god of requited love and avenger of unrequited love.

The Sunday Section: Travel - British Museum and Ancient Egypt's Sunken Cities

Seems like forever since we’ve been to an exhibition at the British Museum. This particular one I’ve been wanting to visit since it opened earlier this year. It finishes at the end of the month; when last Saturday presented us with the opportunity to go, off we went. Bonus – we got to enjoy it with my cousin from America and his lovely wife; they were here on holiday and it was our chance to catch up as we also had lunch together afterwards.

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As always with special exhibitions, photography is not allowed. So, I did my usual and bought the book of the exhibition, and I’m so glad I did. The wealth of information, not to mention the stunning pictures, made it well worth the price. Again, as I always do, I’ve taken a few pictures from the book with the sole intention of giving those who didn’t get a chance to visit the exhibition a taster of how spectacular the finds are.

For more pictures and videos, I urge you to visit the site of the French underwater archaeologist, Franck Goddio, who led the expedition conducted by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology; they’ve been working on it for 20 years.

Thonis… in early times was the trading port of Egypt…” ~ Diodorus Siculus (Greek historian)

Located at the mouth of the Canopic, the westernmost branch of the Nile, the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus flourished thanks to the flow of different people and ideas, and the exchange of goods. Unfortunately, this prime site was also unstable; the landscape was made up of lakes and marshes. Eventually, having been abandoned by their inhabitants, possibly because of earthquakes and tidal waves, the cities sank beneath the sea. Research shows that the submerging of the area was caused by a variety of factors including the slow subsidence of the land, and ‘liquefaction’, a process where solid ground literally turns into a liquid.

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But before this happened, the area was well-known. It was here that Greeks came into contact with the Egyptian civilisation. According to Greek myth, it was here that Herakles first set foot in Egypt, and this gave the Canopic it’s alternative name, the Heracleotic. According to Greek stories, the city of Canopus owed its name to Canobos, who was pilot to King Menelaus, the husband of Helen of Troy.

It was during the 26th dynasty, the Saite dynasty (664-525BC), that the close relations between Egypt and Greece began. Psamtik I, the founder of the Saite dynasty, drafted Greek mercenaries into his army; both countries traded extensively; Greek aristocrats visited Egypt; and Greek traders were allowed to settle in Thonis-Heracleion and Naukratis, which was an inland harbour.

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Naukratis was unique in that it was, both, a royal Egyptian port and a Greek port of trade. The sanctuaries found here were dedicated to patron deities of seafaring – the Dioskouroi, who were the twin sons of Zeus; and Aphrodite, who was also the guardian of safe voyages. There were also sanctuaries dedicated to Hera, Apollo and Zeus. The earliest stone temple for Apollo was built around 560BC at Naukratis.

It was those who participated in the daily life and rituals of the people of Egypt – like Greek traders and mercenaries – who would have been at the forefront of enabling understanding between Egypt and Greece. They would have been the ones taking, not only goods, but also Egyptian ideas about the afterlife and the origins of the gods, knowledge of medicine and craftsmanship, back to their homeland.

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The Decree of Sais - a royal decree issued by the pharaoh Nectanebo I, regarding the taxation of trade passing through Thonis-Heracleion and Naukratis. About 6.5ft tall, the clarity of detail is astounding, considering it is almost 2400 years old.

In 332BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, freeing it from the unwelcome rule of Darius III, Great King of Persia. Although he was a foreign conqueror, the Egyptians hailed Alexander as their liberator for they greatly disliked the Persians. Taking up residence in Memphis, Alexander performed the traditional duties of a pharaoh, including making sacrifices to the local royal god, the Apis bull. While maintaining his Greek heritage, Alexander was successfully accepted in Egypt. He crossed the Libyan Desert to the oracle shrine of Zeus-Ammon, an Egyptian god with Greek and Libyan components. The oracle there recognised him as the son of Zeus-Ammon, and Alexander’s rule was seen as divinely ordained.

Following Alexander’s death in 323BC, it was his trusted friend, Ptolemy, who took over Egypt. He was crowned in 305BC, and as Ptolemy I Soter I, he founded a new dynasty, the Ptolemies, who ruled until the reign of Cleopatra III. Under the Ptolemies, the city of Alexandria grew into one of the greatest intellectual and cultural centres of the ancient world, which benefitted the nearby cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. The Ptolemies were also responsible for building some of the best-known temples, including Dendera, Edfu and Philae.

The Rosetta Stone bears a decree, which established the divine cult of Ptolemy V Epiphanes, ‘a token of gratitude from Egyptian priests for restoring cosmic order (maat) by fulfilling his cultic duties’. The decree is written in 3 scripts – hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek.

Rosetta Stone, British Museum

Rosetta Stone, British Museum

This royal cult did not replace that of the deities but, instead, enhanced it. Neither was it limited to the male ruler for it also embraced the cult of the queen; the mother, wife or daughter of the pharaoh were usually portrayed with divine attributes. The daughter of Ptolemy I Soter I, Arsinoe, gained divine status after her death, and was very popular with both, Egyptians and Greeks, who worshipped her as a Greco-Egyptian goddess. The Egyptians identified her as Isis, while the Greeks saw her as Hera and Aphrodite.

Statue of Arsinoe II

Statue of Arsinoe II

The patron deity of Alexandria and the protector of the Ptolemaic dynasty is one I’d never heard of until I saw him at the exhibition – Serapis. His name is derived from Osiris-Apis, the sacred bull of Memphis and a form of Osiris unique to the area. The Apis bull was carefully selected; he had to have certain markings, and was seen as a representative of the creator god, Ptah, who was also the chief deity of Memphis. The bull was crowned like a pharaoh, served by priests and had his own harem of cows. On his death, the bull became Osiris-Apis. Serapis is seen to be a Greek version of Osiris-Apis, and an amalgamation of Zeus, Hades, Dionysus and Asklepios (god of medicine).

Serapis bust from Alexandria

Serapis bust from Alexandria

The Apis bull, Alexandria. This statue is life-size, just over 6ft in height and 6.7ft in length. Again, the detail is amazing.

I thought, at this point, we were nearing the end of the exhibition. How wrong I was. We were at the ‘Myth and Mysteries of Osiris’. After the part detailing the ‘myth’, which involved the death and resurrection of Osiris, there was ‘the Mysteries of Osiris’, the most important ritual celebrations of the year. It took place in the month of Khoiak, the last month of the Nile Inundation when the flood waters receded, and the fields were ready for cultivation. The Inundation season itself was called Akhet, and lasted from mid-July to mid-November.

Osiris seated

Osiris seated, Saqqara. We couldn't get over how 'new' some of the statues looked; how did the craftsmen achieve the satin polish?

False door, Sais. False doors were imitation doorways placed in tombs. They faced west, linking the living and the dead. Here, Osiris is the central figure flanked by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys.

Priests made a figure of Osiris called an Osiris ‘vegetans’, which was basically a corn mummy. Earth, barley and floodwater were placed in 2 halves of a golden mould, and watered until the plants sprouted; this symbolised eternally renewed life. The Osiris vegetans was then included in a ritual event, carried on a papyrus barque on the sacred lake of the temple. In total, 34 boats were sailed, each carrying a deity; the lamps on the boats numbered 365, representing the days in the year.

This ornament, called a pectoral, was worn on the chest; it was found in the grave of king Sheshonq II at Tanis. It depicts the solar barque sailing on the primeval waters under a star-filled sky, flanked by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys.

The Greek god who was likened to Osiris was Dionysus. Herodotus wrote that he learnt of this from Egyptian priests; later, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch noted similarities between the 2 deities. Dionysus brought civilisation to humanity; he was dismembered by the Titans and revived by Rhea who reassembled his limbs; and he was “the lord and master… of the nature of every sort of moisture” (Plutarch).

Dionysus was not the only Greek god who found his counterpart in an Egyptian deity. Apollo was likened to Horus; the Titan Typhon to Seth; and Hermes’ counterpart was Thoth. As for the rest of the pantheon – Amun was linked to Zeus; Mut to Hera; Khonsu to Herakles; Isis/Hathor to Demeter/Aphrodite; and Neith to Athena.

The exhibition finished with ‘Egypt and Rome’, the time of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. By this time, we’d been there for over 2 hours, and exhibition-fatigue had set in; I admit I didn’t pay much attention to the last part.

Ibis mummy, Saqarra. Associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom, ibis was one of the most important animals worshipped by the ancient Egyptians. The dark patch on the linen wrappings is resin. The X-ray on the right shows that it contains a completely preserved ibis. 

Queen (possibly Cleopatra III) dressed as Isis, Thonis-Heracleion

Queen (possibly Cleopatra III) dressed as Isis, Thonis-Heracleion

I’m pretty sure this is one of the most extensive exhibitions we’ve been to in a long time. It was well worth it, and I’m glad we got the chance to see it.

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Statue of Horus protecting pharaoh. The pharaoh shown is Nectanebo II, the last native pharaoh of Egypt. The falcon's eyes were inlaid with glass, but only the left one has remained intact. 

It’s hard to grasp the scale of some of the statues when you look at the pictures. It was more than a little daunting standing before them as they towered over us. More than ever now, I want to visit Egypt.

Statues of Ptolemaic king and queen, Thonis-Heracleion

Statues of Ptolemaic king and queen, Thonis-Heracleion. The king's statue is about 16.4ft high; the queen is just over 16ft.