Philobiblon: Last chances to see

Monday, November 29, 2004

Last chances to see

palmbeauty, originally uploaded by natalieben.

.. the rather awkwardly named "Ancient Art to Post-Impressionism" exhibition at the Royal Academy, which finishes on December 10.

I wasn't much taken with the modern stuff, mostly just the usual suspects you can see in regular exhibits around London, but the ancient collection, covering (mainly) Egypt and Rome is spectacular.

A 26th-dynasty bronze mongoose struck me as rare (usually you get animal-headed gods). The label said that mongooses were regarded as sacred, since they protected the sun god Re against Apophis, serpent of the underworld. If the latter was not killed (presumably by a mongoose) each night, the sun would not rise. More here.

Also on Egyptian gods there was a Ramesside era Seth in bronze that had later been remodelled, the jackal's head being ingenious turned into a ram, presumably by a bit of "panel-beating", and the addition of horns. Fashions in gods change, as in all else.

I was also taken by some of the Greek sculpture, excavated from the "Gardens of Sallust" a posh area in the north of ancient Rome, in the late 19th century. It had been put there by Roman collectors, to them already up to 600 years old, then re-collected by a rich Dane 2,000 years later.

There's a lovely circularity there. Just imagine an archaeologist striking the British Museum 2,000 years from now.

More on the gardens here.

There's also sculpture from the sanctuary of Diana on the shores of Lake Nemi in the Alban Hills, famous for its method of governance - the priesthood was held by a runaway slave who gained his position by murdering his predecessor. The sanctuary has apparently been reburied since the 1890s.

There's also a small but select collection of Palmyrian sculpture, including the above "Beauty". (I'm sure she looked better before she lost half her nose, but aren't her eyes awfully close together?


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