Ashmolean – Museum of Art and Archaeology

 7th March 2012 and an afternoon at the Ashmolean

It was sick (please note, I’m adopting a teenage definition to the noun) – it was wicked (yet another teenage description). I couldn’t believe it, yesterday afternoon turned out to be even better than I’d anticipated.

The Plan, was to head down to the Ashmolean and spend some time in the newly refurbished and re-opened (late November 2011) Galleries of Ancient Eygpt and Nubia. For I had the brief satisfaction of strolling through them during half-term, though was determined to experience them properly, whilst sporting a complimentary headset, to fill in the many gaps in my knowledge and understanding of this period.

So, the Plan was executed and I spent an extremely gratifying forty minutes or so, wandering around the five galleries set aside for this space, whilst listening and scrolling through the complimentary iPod (connected to the complimentary headset), furnished by a really helpful museum staff member, located just at the opening of the start of the exhibits.

Historically, I have shunned this kind of experience (not the visiting of galleries, rather the wearing/utilising of a headset or hand wand to feed me information), though thankfully have gone through this phase and have come out on the better side, realising that these are in fact great tools. And though not for everyone, they are now…for me. This is where my mother, smiles…….

I shan’t fill you in on every item viewed, though will share with you a couple of my favourites.

  • The Ashmolean Mummy Boy 3
    by Angela Palmer (2011)
    Background: Hoping I understood this – 2,500 CT scans were performed on a smallish mummy – which revealed the remains of a small fellow, around two years of age when he died. This mummy (now housed in a glass cabinet in the final gallery of the exhibition) lies adjacent to another glass cabinet, which houses a three dimensional representation of the figure encased in the mummy. The artist (Angela Palmer) has cleverly drawn slices on multiple glass sheets, to create and provide the viewer with an appreciation of what’s actually inside the other display case.
  • The Animal Mummy Collection
    Petrie Gallery – glass cabinet on your right if you are heading towards the final room
    For, I’ve always had a thing for mummified cats, though I was surprised to find other creatures such as snakes and crocodiles were involved in the same treatment.

With this area completed and having the advantage of experience and time up my sleeve, I headed in the direction of the Japanese galleries on the second floor, via Greek and Roman Sculpture; Islamic Middle East & Mediterranean World. It was during this tour, that I came across my second incredibly helpful museum staff member for the afternoon. And where, my afternoon went from immensely satisfying to I can’t believe that they’d trust me to be in here, doing this!

For within 10 minutes of picking up a single paged guide entitled ‘Ashmolean Drawings Prints and Study Collections’ – and having the very helpful museum staff member number two – alert me verbally to the contents of the sheet -I was standing, then sitting, shifting through (as you do), thirteen of Rembrandt’s original drawings.  I couldn’t believe it.  Actually I still can’t believe it.  I was trusted to handle/touch with my own two hands (pleasingly attired in white gloves) these treasures, and invited to view more – if not then – at any time in the future.

This is when you should either board a plane, train, bus, bicycle… anything – to come and experience what I did and I intend to do again, this Saturday coming.

The Ashmolean is the Bee’s Knees. For the Print Room (where I sat and speechlessly marvelled at some of Rembrandt’s drawings), is home to over 25,000 drawings and ¼ million prints from the 15th Century to the present day. And contains – to mention but a few – drawings by Michelango (I know, for the gentleman seating next to me, had three of them positioned around him, examining them, as I tried really hard not to squeal), sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, and English drawings and watercolours by J.M.W. Turner and Samuel Palmer. Best news – it’s open to everyone.

Additionally, other great things available at the Ashmolean for your viewing, listening and learning pleasure:

  • 5 ½ Floors choc full of Art and Archaeology
  • Eastern Art Prints and Study Collections -The Jameel Centre
  • Visions of Mughal India – The Collection of Howard Hodgkin (2 February – 22 April)
  • OSJ Proms
  • Lunchtime Gallery Talks – every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
  • Lectures, Courses and Workshops.

And the fun also continues as there is a café, restaurant and SHOP on site.

It’s so, so good!

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