Friday, 25 March 2011

Cry God for Harry, England and...

...This rather intriguing little icon

Yes, it's St George - the so-called 'Black' George because he's riding a black horse. You can see it on display in the British Museum, free, gratis, at no charge (other than what we all pay in general taxation). I did, last week. In fact, I saw several things as I glided round in my customary 'let's see what takes my eye' way. I've found it's the only strategy when dealing with a museum or an exhibition of such gargantuan size. Either that, or just concentrate on a small area and look at everything in detail. I don't do guide books either, or those talking headsets. But then, I'm fortunate in that I know the British Museum pretty well having spent just about every Saturday there as a student teacher desperate to find some inspiration for the following week's history lessons.

Anyway, the most interesting thing about this object - other than it's obvious beauty and historical value - is the story of its discovery. You see, it was found being used as a window-shutter in a small village in northern Russia in 1959. Where it has been for the previous 500 years is unknown, but I love the idea of some historian stumbling across a valuable Byzantine icon and trying desperately to offer the owner all kinds of replacement window-shutters. 'But we don't vant uPVC... we like St George!'

In fact, I love the tales behind the acquisition of some of these objects almost as much as the objects themselves. There are some crackers - like the bishop's crozier in the broom cupboard - and I'll share a few more with you in another post. I also love the fact that the British Museum lets you photograph the objects. Or maybe even handle them, as I did this Neolithic stone axe-head, which is probably ceremonial, just so you know.

So, what's your favourite museum and museum-viewing strategy?


  1. Great post, Tim. I love the stories of how these objects have been discovered. Looking forward to hearing some more, please.

    We have tried a few methods to make the most of art galleries and museums. Giving Rory a camera was an inspired decision when we were in Paris. However an art gallery in Madrid which didn't allow photos was actually a far more relaxing experience.

    I wrote a post a few months ago about this - Art Attack in Madrid - which was about how I cope with museum overload!

  2. They let you handle the objects? That's one up on the museum where I work! A trip down to London may be called for!

  3. I think I remember reading that, Trish, but I shall look it up again - thanks!

    They're a table with a curator (to keep an eye on you and explain the history of the objects) and a selection of things to pick up and look at, Steve. It really is most enlighted. (PS: Didn't know you worked in a museum!)

  4. The British Museum is my all time favourite. However, I have to set my sights a little closer to home these days and have taken a fancy to our little Island Heritage Museum. It is full of old photos of Vashon in it's early days. My other little favourite, is the mining museum at Woodhorn Colliery in the North East of England. It holds the collection of the pitman painters (and one of my dad's paintings), as well as other family artifacts. It is strange to be in a museum and see your own family represented, especially as there are no mines left now. A way of life that has vanished, just like the Sumerian marsh people.

  5. Brilliant, I love a museum. I had a (very rare) day child-free in London a couple of weeks ago. I went to the National Gallery and was bowled over at being able to stand in front of these incredible pieces of art painted by the true masters (Constable, Monet, Canaletto, Degas, Hogarth - you get the 'picture' I don't need to list them out). It's amazing to see such things free of charge. But I'm actually very used to the National Gallery because I once worked in an office in the street next to it and would wander around the National Gallery in my lunch hour. And even though I did that I'm still amazed every time I visit. I can't wait to take the children when they're old enough to understand what they're seeing.

  6. I love museums. Two of my favourites are the Rothschild Tring museum and the Pitt Rivers Collection n Oxford - like Indiana Jones on drugs!

  7. Strange but true LIOL... I too was brought up in a mining village - in my case, in the West Riding. But as you say, it's a lost world now.

    Absolutely Emily, I get the picture... in fact, I hope to get a bit closer to those in the Tate in the not-too-distant future.

    That's not a description I've come across so far, Mark... but I can see it's apt!

  8. I like to take in as much as I can, then go out for some fresh air, a coffee, and then go back again later. I love museums and galleries, too but getting your 'money's worth' can be daunting.
    The St. George icon is wonderful, as is the story behind it!

  9. That sounds like a good strategy, Rebecca.

  10. When my daughter was in year three, she and I went off on a girls day out to the Tate Modern. I armed her with a thick pink sketch pad and tube of coloured pencils. She drew the pieces she liked best, copied down the artist name and info. It was one of my favourite museum days ever. Eight years later, she still takes that same sketch pad with her on museum trips and it is nearly full now, as she only draws her favourites. Sometimes I find her looking through the pad at old works of hers. She thinks they are awful but would never rip them out.
    sometimes seeing art and artifacts through a childs' eyes is the best way to see them.

  11. What a great crazy little historical story - do share more, I like that kind of thing! I agree with your museum strategy - I choose a few galleries I want to visit and really take my time with them. I like taking time to actually look at what I'm visiting without rushing off, as well as to read the related placard.

  12. That's a fantastic idea, MH, which I intend to copy shamelessly next time we're at a museum or gallery as a family. Thanks so much for sharing what might just be a sanity-saving strategy.

    Oh, I intend to Tanya. Glad you liked this one!


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