The British Library

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Lately, I have been spending most of my weekends at The British Library, alternating between practicing Spanish and reading for my Masters in Museums and Gallery studies.

For anyone who has visited The British Library, you will know that it is a national library of international significance which holds a copy of every single book ever produced in the UK and Ireland. You will also know that a tall glass structure proudly dominates the centre of the library, encasing thousands of beautifully bound books dating from the 15th to 19th century.

Lost in thought, my eyes frequently gaze at the perfectly lit books enshrined in their glass casing. Until very recently, I never questioned to whom these books belonged, believing it was a curated display of some of the library’s finest collections. Yet, every single one belonged to King George III.

On the advice of his librarian, Frederick Augusta Barnard, and Dr Samuel Johnson, King George amassed a rich and varied collection of classic literature, religious writings and historical texts throughout his reign.  At the time of his death in 1820, his collection contained around 65,000 printed books, 19,000 pamphlets and numerous manuscripts and maps.

At first housed in the British Museum from 1828, followed by a brief stint at the Bodleian Library in Oxford during World War II, the books came to the British Library in 1998 where they are still consulted by readers today.

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Images:
King’s Library Tower – The British Library
King George III by Johann Zoffany – The Royal Collection 

Open House London: Admiralty House

This weekend, historic and architecturally significant buildings in London opened their doors to members of the public as part of Open House London. So, i started my weekend off with a trip to Admiralty House, a building I have been curious about for quite some time.

Admiralty House is a Grade I listed building which is normally closed to the public.  Built in 1785 to accommodate the First Lord of the Admiralty, it is now owned by the Cabinet Office who uses the ground floor Senate Rooms for meetings and conferences.

The rooms are filled with naval themed art and antiques belonging to the Ministry of Defence Art Collection. The most interesting part for me was the highly decorative chimney stove in the main hallway. Made from stone and terracotta, it was designed to look like a rostral column similar to the monuments used by the Romans to commemorate their victories over the Carthaginian fleet with images of captured enemy warships.

St Dunstan in the East

This weekend I spent an hour reading my book in the glorious setting of St Dunstan in the East. Originally built in 1100, the church has undergone various (sometimes unintentional) alterations over the centuries, including the addition of a south aisle in 1391, damage from the 1666 great fire of London and the addition of a steeple and tower by Sir Christopher Wren in 1695.  In fact, all that remains fully intact is Wren’s tower, which surprisingly survived the Blitz in the 1940s, unlike the rest of the church. The remaining ruins only heighten St Dunstan as a serene and magical place, full of history and charm and a haven from the chaos of central London.

Myrtle Wreath

Having recently returned from a trip to Athens, I could write endless blog post about the archaeological marvels I “found” there.  Instead, I thought I would focus on one single object. An object which caught my attention with its incredibly intricate craftsmanship: a gold, myrtle wreath from the Benaki Museum.

The wreath dates from the Hellenistic periodic (4th-3rd cent. BC), a time which saw a new wave of Ancient Greek colonisation and the advancement of Greek art and culture throughout the Ancient world. Although some aristocratic Ancient Greek women wore elaborate hair decorations on a daily basis, most wreaths were only worn during celebrations or for athletic competition due to their immense fragility.  However, it was often typical for wealthy individuals to be buried with a wreath as a final symbol of their power and status, particularly golden wreaths during the Hellenistic period.

The type of leaf imitated in the wreath also denoted its symbolism.  For instance, oak was connected to Zeus, ivy was associated with Dionysus and laurel leaves were linked to Apollo.  Myrtle, as we see depicted in the image above, represented the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, Aphrodite.

Japanese Inro

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 08.20.06 Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 08.20.33 The Victoria and Albert museum holds a gorgeous and somewhat quirky collection of traditional Japanese inro.  From the late 16th century, Japanese men suspended inro from their pocketless kimonos as a means to carry medicines or personal identity seals.  However, they soon became costly fashion accessories with little practical use.
Images: V&A museum

Tutankhamun

As it’s almost Valentine’s Day, it seems appropriate to discuss a theme which has inspired many artists across history and cultures: love.

This image is taken from the throne found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun and dates from around 1370 – 1352 BCE. It depicts a tender moment between the young pharaoh and his wife as she anoints his shoulder with scented oil.

Embellished with gold, silver and semi-precious stones, it is an exquisite depiction of love and affection. In Ancient Egypt, marriage was held as sacred bond between lovers. Although marriage contracts were often created to establish rights and guarantee possessions, artefacts from the era indicate marriages were generally happy and consensual.

This throne, however, is more than a symbol of love. In Ancient Egypt, chairs were regarded as a mark of prestige. Ordinary people usually sat on the ground when cooking or eating and even the more affluent scribes squatted on the floor when writing. Usually, the higher the chair, the wealthier the owner was. In fact, the hieroglyph of a figure sitting on a chair [see below] denoted “blessed”, “dignitary” and “honourable”.