Saturday, October 9, 2010

London - British Museum (Part 1)

Travel lesson #1: traveling is not terribly cheap if you don't plan in advance. Therefore, a day trip to London was my best option for today since a) London is under an hour away by train (and I woke up at 10:00), b) train tickets to London are fairly cheap, c) the British Museum is free, and d) the weather was exceptionally good (for England). Turns out, a handful of other museums in London are free, but my time was limited.

Museums have traditionally been a source of frustration for me, because after I have collected the necessary floor plans, maps, and audio guides, I have a fundamental decision to make: do I try to see as much as possible by hitting the highlights and scanning over the rest, or do I slow down and fully digest things and end up seeing only a few exhibits. I decided to take the latter approach, particularly since I was equipped with an audio guide as I was at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

I have recently realized that I enjoy teaching other people what I have learned. Those of you that know me will probably agree that when I learn something that I think is interesting, I generally share it. Sermons, lectures, tour tidbits, etc. Most likely you will have picked that up from my blog posts too...  So now you get to be a fly on the wall, watching me wander around the museum.
Welcome to the British Museum. And everyone else who is going to the British Museum.
 The British Museum is divided into sections primarily by geographic region. Also, the artifacts are related to human culture, so no dinosaurs, whales, or extensive painting collections. But have no fear! Those have their own museums, somewhere else in London I'm sure. I saw the Rosetta Stone in the Ancient Egypt display, which was interesting but extremely difficult to photograph due to the large group of people clustered breathlessly around the etchings. Egyptian objects transitioned into Assyrian as I moved through the halls, and I was instantly reminded of all the pictures of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom I had seen in Sunday School lessons and Bible handbooks. The giant winged lions with men's faces that stand on either side of a gate? Yup, those were there. Also there was the item below:

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, an Assyrian King who reigned from 858-824 BC. Each panel shows a different king bringing him tribute.

Forgive the blurriness of the picture. The kneeling figure in the center panel is King Jehu of Israel - how about that?!
My next stop was the Gallery Cafe, since it was about 2:00 and I had not eaten anything. I barely caught the train to London and did not get my desired latte to sip during the ride. But, one chocolate chip muffin and a double-latte later, I was ready to re-enter the museum. I was happily sipping my coffee while gazing at displays when I heard a throat cleared by my shoulder. "Ma'am? There are no food or drinks allowed in the museum, but you can go finish it in the cafe if you would like." Drat.... If I am ever curator of a museum, I think I will ensure that people can sip their drink of choice in the galleries if they are mature and well-behaved (so as to prevent spills, you know). A good drink is the perfect companion to a good book, so why should museum displays be any different?

At this point, I decided to delve into the Greek exhibits. Greek culture is of particular interest to me for a few reasons: 1) the Greeks loved science and technology, and I am an engineer, 2) I enjoy Greek mythology, and 3) the Greek exhibit was right next to the cafe ;).

The Greeks were good at geometry, and look - there's geometry on their vases! Early Grecian pottery was predominated by geometric designs, which I think was because they didn't really know how to draw anything else - witness the poor skinny horses on the neighboring pot. They needed some "drawing with perspective" course or something...
Large amphora either for storing food or burying small children, preferably not at the same time.

Details on the above amphora. These design were most likely rolled into the clay by a circular stamp.
The amphora was too large to be manufactured in one piece, so the sections were made separately and then joined by firing. I can just see the face of the one guy who didn't measure his section right the first time and made it too small, as it falls "phoomp" right in the center of the other pieces. Whoops...

The first ever artist signature - on the right, running along the vertical white column. Not exactly your scripted, flowing flourish, but hey - it works.
Famous pottery with Achilles killing the Amazon queen. Apparently, he fell in love with her just after he plunged his spear in her neck. "Aw, crap..."
I spent most of my time in the gallery of the Parthenon, which will hopefully come tomorrow in the next post.


  1. Very interesting! That is quite something to get to see. There is a big controversy now over the fact that the British Museum has the Rosetta Stone and other artifacts. They were gained after Napoleon was rousted out of Egypt, but since they are iconic parts of Egyptian culture many people feel that the British have no right to keep them. I hope you are enjoying yourself!

  2. "recently realized that I enjoy teaching other people what I have learned"

    Really? You mean more like, "A new event or realization hasn't really happened unless at least one person, preferably as many as possible, have as many details as possible about what transpired?"

    :) Love you! And glad you are having a great time...

  3. That's awesome Renee. Now I want to go to England and see all that neat stuff!