Posts Tagged ‘British Museum’

Hokusai exhibition

Posted: July 25, 2017 in Art, London, UK
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Yesterday evening Sue and I went to see the exhibition of Japanese art by Katsushika Hokusai at the British Museum. Now I confess I am not a great fan of Oriental art but I do love Hokusai’s best-known work ‘The Great Wave‘ and so was interested to see other examples of his work. This proved to be a wide range of styles ranging from traditional oriental to a fusion style in which he incorporated elements of western art.

Under the Wave off Kanagawa also known as ‘The Great Wave’ from ’36 views of Mount Fuji’ 1831

Katsushika Hokusai was born in Japan in October 1760 in Edo (modern day Tokyo). It is believed he started painting at the age of 6 and he was apprenticed to a wood carver at 14 and at 18 entered an art studio of a woodblock print artist. From 1793 he began exploring other styles of art and was expelled from the studio. He illustrated books and became more and more famous. He did not produce his most famous works Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji which includes The Great Wave until he was 60.  In fact, there are more than 36 as they proved so popular that the publisher prevailed on Hokusai to produce 10 additional prints.

Clear Day with a Southern Breeze also known as ‘The Red Fuji’ from ’36 views of Mount Fuji’ 1831

Shicirigahama Beach from ’36 views of Mount Fuji’ 1831

Hokusai produced works under many different names during his life and was of the firm belief that his art got better as he aged. He said that when he reached 100 his art would be at its best. Sadly he never reached this milestone as he died in May 1849 at the age of 89. On his death bed he is reputed to have said ‘ Just another 5 years, then I could become a real painter’.

Tametomo and the bow of Onoshima (A Japanese legend) 1811


I was pleased to see more of the pictures from 36 Views of Mount Fuji and these continue to be my favourite works by Hokusai. It was also interesting to see how his style changed over his lifetime as he encountered new influences.

The Hukosai exhibition ‘ Beyond the Great Wave’ continues at the British Museum until 13th August and I highly recommend it.

I have got into a bad habit when major exhibitions occur. I don’t go initially because they will be too busy and then before I know it they are almost over. So it was with the Celts exhibition at the British Museum, which closes at the end of this week and which I finally got round to seeing yesterday.

Extent of Celtic Culture in Europe - "Celts in Europe" by QuartierLatin1968. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Extent of Celtic Culture in Europe – “Celts in Europe” by QuartierLatin1968. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

The exhibition follows the development of the Celtic culture, a single culture shared by a number of different peoples from eastern ( Czech Republic and Turkey), Central (Switzerland and Germany) and western (Iberia, France and Britain) Europe. It reached it height during the Iron Age and is perhaps most famous for its metalwork, much of which is on display in the exhibition.



The Celtic metalwork is amazing and these were the star exhibits on show.

Photo by Jessica springer (

Photo by Jessica Spengler (


Celtic Shield. Photo by rachel H (

Celtic Shield. Photo by Rachel H (


Celtic Torc. Photo by tallis Keaton (

Celtic Torc. Photo by Tallis Keaton (


It has always been imagined that the culture expanded from a foundation in Central Europe westwards and eastwards, as shown on the map above. However I recently saw a documentary on the TV which reported the apparent finding of ‘bronze age’ Celtic artifacts from Iberia and Britain. Since no such items have been found in central or Eastern Europe, this may, if substantiated, suggest that the origins of the Celtic culture may in fact have been on the lands of the Atlantic coast and spread eastward from there.


The exhibition closes on Sunday.

The Meroe head

Posted: February 13, 2015 in History, Roman History
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This fantastic piece of sculpture is currently on exhibition at the British Museum.


The Meroe head was originally part of a life sized statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (reigned 27BC-14AD). It likely was made in Egypt (c26BC) for a town in Southern Egypt following Augustus’ earlier campaigns in that area. It has an amazing story because it was found, not in a Roman context, but buried in the ground at Meroe, the capital city of Kush, in what is now Sudan. It is recorded that shortly after Augustus became Emperor, King Teriteqas of Kush raided across the border into Roman held souther Egypt and that as part of the subsequent peace agreement between the two sides the Romans demanded the return of stolen statues. It seems that this decapitated head of Augustus never made it back. Instead it was ritually buried in the capital as a sign of the “victories” that Teriteqas had achieved over his Roman counter=part, perhaps as an offering to their gods in thanks for the victorious campaign. Also in the city of Meroe is a monument celebrating victories which includes a frieze with captured soldiers who could be wearing Roman uniforms.

Meroe Royal Cemetery - the northern group
The Royal Cemetery at Meroe Sudan
Photo by Carsten ten Brink (

The head is remarkable to look at. It is made of bronze and its fantastic eyes are made from black and green glass paste set in polished limestone. It achieves an amazing penetrating stare which must has surely given the citizens of its home town the idea that the Emperor had his eyes on them at all times. This life like quality may have led it to be the reason why it was this item which was chosen as an offering to the gods.


Posted: June 16, 2014 in Dark ages, History
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A meeting at the British Museum enabled me to finally visit the Viking exhibition in the new exhibition gallery a few days before it closed.

British Museum
Photo by Allan Harris (

The exhibition chose to focus away from the traditional view of Vikings as blood hungry raiders who pillaged the neighbouring territories and instead to look at them in terms of their culture, craft and explorations.
There were many beautiful objects gathered from collections all over the world which bore witness to their skill as craftsmen.

British Museum: Viking badges "The Penrith Hoard"
photo by Moorina (

British Museum
The Lewis Chessmen
Photo by Allan Harris (

The geographical range of goods discovered told the tale of their wide ranging exploration and their involvement in Kingdoms from Byzantium in the east to Ireland and Normandy in the West.
The centre of the main hall is the reconstruction, together with some original timber, from the largest Viking warship ever unearthed at Roskilde in Denmark. It is over 37m long and is estimated to have had around 70-80 oars and a probable crew of 100 warriors.

photo by Wolfgang Jung (

The Sea-wolf
photo by Zoe (

A very interesting exhibition and a great start to the new gallery. The exhibition closes on June 22nd. So if you can get along and see it.

Amazingly our understanding of the texts have been advanced in the last few months. Last year a cuneiform tablet was brought to the British Museum by a man who had been given it by his father, who had purchased it somewhere in the Middle East just after the second world war. He had had it in his possession for over 50 years and finally decided to try and find out what it was about.

Irving Finkel, curator at the British Museum with the tablet

Irving Finkel, curator at the British Museum with the tablet

It is a 61 line portion of a story, dating to 17-18 century BCE most likely a part of the Attrahasis epic which describes the instructions for building the ark. Previous to this little had been known of the Mesopotamian ark but this tablet describes a giant coracle or gufa 230ft in diameter with 20ft high walls made of palm fibre sealed with bitumen. This is thought to be a scaled up version of the boats that the Mesopotamians used to traverse the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. It also contains a reference to the animals and uses the cuniform word Sana ‘which can be translated as – in twos’

An artists impression of the type of bosts used on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers

An artists impression of the type of bosts used on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers

For further information

The most well-known of the epics is that of Gilgamesh. Like Attrahasis a significant number of tablets were discovered at Nineveh, which date from the six or seventh century BCE. In addition copies or partial copies have also been found at a number of other sites within the Assyrian Empire and some of these have been translated into local languages – Hittite, Hurrian and Elamite.
The hero of the epic is Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk (sometimes listed as Erech). Gilgamesh is a ‘historical’ character appearing in the Sumerian Kings list from around 2600BCE where he is assigned a reign of 126 years.



His father was a King and a high priest, whilst his mother is listed as the goddess Ninsun. As a result Gilgamesh had a semi-divine nature.



The epic opens with the introduction to Gilgamesh and his deeds. There are many aspects of the story which record the nature of his reign as King. He is portrayed as a man of wisdom and knowledge, but also of tyranny and trickery. The inhabitants of Uruk petition the God Aruru to rescue them from Gilgamesh’s rule, and Aruru sends a warrior, Enkidu, to challenge him. However, Gilgamesh and Enkidu end up as friends and partners and set off on an adventure to kill a giant. When they encounter the giant, Gilgamesh despairs of killing him, but by the intervention of the sun god, they are able to overpower him and the giant has to plead for his life. In the next section Gilgamesh refuses the advances of the goddess Ishtar and she sends the ‘Bull of heaven’ to Earth in order to punish Gilgamesh for his rejection. However Gilgamesh is able to kill the bull, but not before the animal has killed Enkidu. Gilgamesh sets off on another adventure to find Ut-napishtum, the son of King Ubara-Tutu, a man who has been granted immortality following his survival of a great flood. He undergoes a long and difficult journey but eventually he finds Ut-napishtum, who tells him the story that the gods decided to send a great flood to wipe out humankind.

tablet from the epic-of-Gilgamesh detailing the flood story

tablet from the epic-of-Gilgamesh detailing the flood story

However, the God Ea had warned Ut-napishtum in time for him to build a large boat and fill it with precious metals and set sail with his family, craftsman and wild beasts. At the end of the flood he sent out a dove and a swallow but both returned having been unable to find land. Subsequently he sent out a raven which did not return. He left the boat and performed sacrifices to the gods, who decide to make him and his wife immortal. Gilgamesh then asked how he too can obtain immortality. Ut-napishtum tells him that he does not know, as it had been a gift to him from the Gods. Some versions report that Gilgamesh is set a task to stay awake for six days and seven nights, as a test of whether he is worthy of immortality, but Gilgamesh fails to complete it. He abandons the quest and returns to Uruk.

Statue of Asclepius in the British Museum

Asclepius was the son of Apollo and was the god of healing and medicine. His name means ‘to cut open’. His symbol was a staff with a snake entwined around it and this has remained a symbol associated with the medical professions to this day. He had 6 daughters, including Hygieia and Panacea, who were all associated with health and well-being. Asclepius was eventually killed by a thunderbolt cast by Zeus as punishment for raising people from the dead and then charging for it. It is unclear from my reading which of these two he was punished for although one source tells that Hades was becoming frightened that if Asclepius continue to resurrect people there would be no-one left in the underworld. He appears in the mythological constellations as Opiuchus ‘the serpent holder’

Ophiuchus & Serpens
Photo from Derby Museums (

Statue of Hygieia in the British Museum

Hygieia was one of the daughters of Asclepius and was the personification of health, cleanliness and sanitation. Another of his daughters was Panacea, the goddess of the universal remedy. Hygieia has now passed into use in the English language as Hygiene and Panacea still means a universal cure-all.


This image of a doctor’s surgery is taken from a Greek vase made in Athens about 480 to 470 BCE. On the left the dwarf can be seen ushering the patients into the surgery, where people are waiting to be seen by a physician. In the centre a seated Physician is seen treating a patient’s arm. Another patient who was already been treated and has his arm bandaged looks on. The hare or rabbit held by the dwarf may be the patients payment to the physician for the treatment he is receiving.

This frieze can be seen in the British Museum and the vase in the Musee du Louvre in Paris

I recently went to the British Museum’s current exhibition on Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrianism was a state religion of Persia from around A.D. 200 until the conquests of the Persian lands by the Arabs in around 650 A.D, although its origins are much earlier and may date from as early as 800 – 1000 BCE. At the time of the Arab conquest, many Zoroastrians left there homeland and migrated to India, where they are known today as the Parsis. in Persia, it was replaced as the state religion by Islam.
The religion takes his name from the Prophet Zarathustra who lived sometime between 1700 and 800 BCE in the central Asian steps. His writings are to be found in a holy Scripture known as the Avesta. In Zoroastrianism one must choose between truth and falsehood. A true Zoroastrian is committed to good thoughts good works and good deeds.
Interestingly, the Zoroastrian winged figure, the fravashi or farvahar, has become a symbol of national identity for modern Iranians regardless of their religious affiliation.

The fravashi or farvahar

The fravashi or farvahar

This was an interesting exhibition about a subject I was not familiar with and in that respect it was very informative. However, I think the most amazing part of the exhibition was the sheer richness and beauty of the objects on display.

Glazed wall tile (19th century copy of 5th century BCE audience scene

Glazed wall tile (19th century copy of 5th century BCE audience scene

Roayl seal of darius the Great 522-486 BCE showing the King in his chariot facing a lion

Royal seal of Darius the Great 522-486 BCE showing the King in his chariot facing a lion

Persian and Zoroastrian imagery has often been used in connection with ‘the three wise men’ or ‘the three Kings’ from the Christian Christmas story. In this 13th century enamelled reliquary casket from France, the wise men are shown wearing Persian tunics and trousers. In the image of the presentation the hand of the first King is covered as a sign of piety and respect in the Persian and Zoroastrian tradition.



The exhibition is at the British Museum and runs until April 2004. Further details can be found at

It is interesting that apart from the materials from which they were made the Roman doctor /surgeons instrument kit resembles that which was still in use up until relatively recent times

Probes, needles and sharp hooks

Probes, needles and sharp hooks

Scoops, probes and spoons

Scoops, probes and spoons





These examples all from the collection of the British Museum