Thursday, November 05, 2015

Reflections on the British Museum

One of the things that amazed me about the British Museum was its sheer size. Yes, I had been there before, but I had forgotten the scale.  You really need to come several times, tasting on the first visit, then coming back in a targeted way.  Sadly, we didn't have the time on this trip.

The main thing I realised this time is just how little I know. I didn't properly recognise this on my last visit all those years ago. My immersion in history since makes it easier to see relationships, to recognise gaps, to be struck by the scale of things that I do not know.

The sheer size of the collection may be overwhelming, but this is also a plus for it makes it easier to see patterns, similarities and differences. This is aided by the provision of descriptive material that is such a feature of modern museums everywhere..

 .When I first studied history at school, so much less was known about the detail of life. Who knew, for example, that one's vision of Greek statues as featureless white was wrong, that they were painted in bright colours? We also didn't have easy access to the great museum collections, having to rely on a limited number of books.

I am well aware of modern arguments about cultural imperialism as exemplified in things such as the debate over the Elgin Marbles.Whatever the arguments, it's just so nice that things survived that can be enjoyed.

This time I passed the Elgin Marbles with a passing glance.I guess that I'm Greeked out. It's interesting, though. The more recent things become, the more descriptions in museums carry an overload of current opinion as opposed to a description of what was. Not that the Elgin Marbles are recent, but the current debate is very much connected with current views. It also reflects the British (and descendants) long obsession with things Greek, something I have written about. You don't get the same obsession with, say, Egyptian or Middle Eastern artifacts.

 My own view? I think that they should be returned because they would make more sense in a Greek context with the Parthenon nearby. But I don't regard it as a great moral issue. It just makes more sense.  


For JC from comments.  The Gayer-Anderson cat. I had no idea how famous it was when I took this photo!


Anonymous said...

I want the Geyer Anderson cat. She was the first thing I saw the 1st time I went there, and I love her. I could care for her as well as any old museum could, and her presence could remind the Abys of their once divine status. On second thoughts, that's probably the last thing they need reminding about.

Legal Eagle said...

I love the British Museum.

Jim Belshaw said...

Cat photo up just for you. Yes, perhaps not wise to further remind the Abys. Have you been to Victoria and Albert Museum, LE? Very different, but this was the big surprise for me. Quite run down when I saw it before, but now all tarted up and quite fascinating.