St. Martin in the Fields is a beautiful church. It is open, airy, has beautiful guilding, and some of the most interesting windows that I have ever seen in a religious building. While not actually in a field (as there was some debate about it), it still is in a nice, albeit touristey, location. The inside of church has every appearance of being a nice, though rather upscale, protestant church, much like the ones built all around New England during the 18th century, which is why I found the contrast to the outside so dramatic.
English churches, especially the more well-known ones, tend to be made of stone and feature either gothic or roman architecture, and the inside usually matches the exterior. However, when sitting inside St. Martin’s I felt that when I exited the building I would see a wooden, white-washed structure with a steeple, basically a copy of many of the protestant churches that litter New England. It was almost jarring for me to enter what was outwardly a copy of a Roman Temple (with the addition of a steeple and clock) and instead see a bright room filled with windows.
It just struck me as another difference between our religious establishments and those of Britain. England has always done a good job of integrating old and new, and St. Martin in the Fields is a perfect example of that.
St. Martin in the Fields
I’ll start by saying what a thrill it was to go to St. Martin
in the Fields today. As a classical music fan, I’ve long admired the recordings of Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the fields. 18 Handel_ Water Music Suite #1 In F Hopefully, that is the Air from the Water Music Suite #1 in F by Handel, recorded at St. Martin in the Fields. I enjoyed the trio today, but especially relished the chance to take in the space where the Academy plays.
On another note, I’ve enjoyed (despite being overwhelmed by) both the British Museum and the National Gallery in the last two days. Even though Henry and I only got to see the Egyptian statues before the British Museum closed yesterday, we were in awe of the sheer scope and grandeur of the place. We had a similar feeling at the National Gallery today.
This leads me to the chief irony of both of these museums, namely that neither is all that ostensibly British. The British museum has a section for nearly every part of the world, while the National Gallery is dependent mainly on work by mainland European artists. What makes these museums British then? I’ve been slowly coming to the conclusion that Britain (both in the empire era and even today) has thought itself something of an arbiter of all world culture. Our Burton reading yesterday mentioned that the visitors from India in the 19th century approved of the British Museum’s India section, all but saying one need not go to India but rather London to understand Indian culture. Similarly, today I saw French and Italian tourists in London today admiring Pissaro and Titian at the National Gallery.
This British “arbiter of all world culture” role, if it indeed does exist, is a very powerful role that is potentially also very problematic. Certainly it is convenient for a traveler or student to have all of this in one city. However, some time ago, I heard about a nation (I believe it was Egypt) demanding a few of its artifacts back from the British Museum. Besides being a tricky legal issue, I feel this says a lot about the power dynamic between Britain and the rest of the world which has come about both as a result of colonialism and the powerful role Britain has had in relation to most of the world since WWII. For some reason it just seems natural and unproblematic to us in the west that the Rosetta Stone should be permanently in London, because we perhaps have subconsciously come to believe that the British have a natural right to something with such value to civilization, without thinking critically about who actually created and contributed to that artifact.
Thoughts on this “arbiter” theory or what it could mean (presuming its reasonable)?
August 25th, 2009 · 1 Comment
After a delightful performance by E.L.F. trio in St. Martin in-the-Fields, I walked over to the National Gallery with some classmates. I was about to enter a museum with one of the most extensive collections of artwork from the 13th to early 20th centuries, and I was in heaven. As an art history major, art museums, especially one as large as this one, make me feel like a kid in a candy store. Our group made a plan to meet up at 4pm and so Kelley and I headed off to the Sainsbury Wing to investigate paintings from the 13th to 15th century. Although I prefer modern art, I found the works in this section very moving. Of course, they all had a Christian connotation and most of them were placed in a church at one time as an altarpiece or as part of a triptych. As a Reform Jew, I really don’t know much about Christianity outside of the Old Testament; however, everyone can appreciate the beauty of these paintings and the emotions they evoke. After passing through room after room of the Virgin Mary and Christ I began to wonder, why is the Virgin always depicted in blue robes? The blue is a similar shade in every painting, somewhere in between the color of a clear sky at dusk and a robin’s egg. Naturally, I looked it up when I returned to the Arran House. Some of the answers I found ranged from the ridiculous “because it’s her favorite color” to the more academic explanation, “blue was the color Byzantine empresses wore.” All I can say is that the particular shade of blue is a color I’ve only ever seen in these paintings, so I guess I’ll leave it as ‘the Virgin Blue.’
As we moved through the rest of the museum I was overcome with joy… I was seeing some of my favorite lessons come to life. When you see a picture that you study in your textbook or in a slide comes to life, it’s like seeing it for the first time all over again. Major players like Masaccio, Titian, Raphael and Bellini were all here. It was hard for me to believe that I was actually standing in front of THE Aronlfini Wedding Portrait by Jan van Eyck. This paining first began my love affair with the Dutch school of painters and semiotics…. now I was here, in front of it. I could actually see the dog (for fidelity), the removed shoes (the marriage as a religious sacrament), and the reflection of Van Eyck himself in the mirror along with the inscription “van Eyck was here.” Also, for anyone who is interested, his bride is NOT pregnant. She is simply wearing the style of dress that was popular at this time period. I was even able to see Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533) and walk across the room to see the anamorphic perspective skull.
However, when I walked into the 19th and early 20th century gallery my heart really began to race. As Kelly will attest, I did audibly gasp when I saw Gauguin’s Still Life with Mangoes (1891-6). This section was by far my favorite. The late nineteenth century painters were the first school to paint modernity; they disregarded all the set rules, added some color and painted the world around them rather than the bible or portraits. Degas, van Gogh, Cezanne, each one brought paining to a new place either with subject matter, texture or color. The Degas gallery was especially moving. I am fascinated with his series that captures the private movements in women’s lives. He takes everyday scenes intimate such as a woman drying herself off after a bath or having her hair combed and turns it into a story for the viewer. We are left wondering, who is she? What is she doing? Why?
Of course, I could not make it through the entire gallery in one day. So I plan on returning soon to take in the 17th century (including one of my absolute favorites, Vermeer) and to revisit the early-modern painters. Everyone should visit the National Gallery, regardless of his or her “art background.” It really is the crown jewel in the world of art museums. I anyone wants to come back with me, please let me know.
Tags: Museums · Grace
Instead of perusing the Portrait Gallery along with everyone else, Sarah, Alli and I decided to chip away at the vast collections of the British Museum a short walk away from the Arran House in Bloomsbury. Because their collection is so vast, we were only able to manage the Egyptian and Southeast Asian exhibits in one afternoon, but so far I think it’s safe to say that the British Museum is my favorite of all that we have seen.
At every turn in this country, I am astounded by the amount of history and the age of buildings, artifacts, and communities on display both in museums and on the city streets, but the Egyptian section of the British Museum takes the cake for being the most impressive and mindblowingly old. As an American, when something is over one hundred years old, I usually find it quite impressive and worthy of special honor and delicate hands. However, many of the Egyptian artifacts at the British Museum are out in the open, which strikes me as almost irresponsible, since “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH” signs usually don’t stop small children and excited tourists from running their hands all over these ancient hieroglyphs and pharaohstatues. Besides my worries about greasy fingers and eroded stones, however, I believe I have a new-found interest in hieroglyphics and Egyptian culture based on what I saw this afternoon. While I’m usually not a fan of dead things on principle, I particularly liked an exhibit in a glass case of a remarkably well-preserved man, buried and surrounded by various jars of important things he would need in the afterlife. The idea of preparing a dead person for the unknown with worldly goods fascinates me, and seeing the mummies up close and in person is something I don’t think I’ll soon forget.
Even though we didn’t make it to about 75% of the museum today, by glancing at the floor plan, it was immediately obvious that despite the fact this was the British Museum, there was very little having to do with the Brits in the exhibits. There were whole floors and wings dedicated to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Southeast Asia and Asia, and Africa, and seemingly most other continents and cultures besides Great Britain. The name “the British Museum” is certainly a misnomer, and I hope to find out the origins behind the name. If there had been a feedback section for visitors to leave their comments like there was in the Docklands Museum, I wonder what the patrons would have said. Because the exhibits I saw were not as politically charged as the slavery exhibit at the Docklands Museum, perhaps the comments would be less scathing, but I imagine that many tourists and visitors have arrived at the museum expecting a museum of British history and leaving without getting what they came for (many comments at the Docklands had been about “missing” components of British history and an imbalance of representation of thinkers and innovators).
Perhaps the name of the museum remains the somewhat confusing “British Museum” because of the elusive definition of “British” itself. Since Britain, specifically London, is such a patchwork of histories and cultures and traditions, perhaps making the British Museum focus on everything but the history that went down on this particular piece of land is actually fitting: each culture gets a historical representation in the broad strokes of the various African and Asian and European galleries, and together these collective histories make up the histories of the individuals who make up Britain.
Tags: Museums · Chelsea
August 25th, 2009 · 1 Comment
Yesterday I toured the Docklands Museum and was fascinated with the exhibit on slavery and the response that many museum-goers had to that particular exhibit. I found the museum overall to be both interesting and informative and that it filled a major hole in the historical sense since the Thames is integral to the economy of both city of London and the nation as a whole. The slavery exhibit included several examples of artwork that highlighted the enslaved Africans place in society. The museum housed multiple paintings depicting the slaves as an accessory or a barometer to measure a family’s wealth. After viewing the included artwork I remembered that we had the possibility of touring the National gallery the next day and I decided to look for paintings of a comparable theme to see how the Gallery would handle the similar works.
I was surprised however that in all of the paintings that there were no paintings that included enslaved Africans within the painting. Out of the hundred of paintings that detailed religious aspects of life, the nobility, and the popular myths there was not one acknowledged the existence of slavery in European world. I understand that the gallery is predominately for fine art owned by the British Government, but I do not believe that this was something unintentionally overlooked. Especially during the period that it was fashionable to own a slave and was considered a sign of wealth and class. I just found it interesting that one of the most prestigious art museums in London would gloss over such an important aspect of British history.
Tags: Museums · Mara
My first impression upon entering the National Gallery was skepticism that the art could possibly be any more beautiful than the building’s architecture. I’m not usually much of an art person (although I’m a HUGE Dalí fan), and I usually don’t spend much time in museums dedicated entirely to art. However, to my great surprise, I was abslutely fascinated by the thousands of paintings. Of course, I got to see paintings I thought I would only ever see in photos, such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Monet’s Japanese Bridge. Additionally, I chose to make note of paintings I previously was unfamiliar with that caught my eye. Of these, my favorite was Louis-Léopold Boilly’s A Girl at a Window. The oil on canvas painting originally attracted me because it is painted to look like a framed still image; therefore, it is in black and white and rather unique. As I drew closer, I noticed the clarity of the details, especially those of the fish in the bowl next to the girl. The painting is so clear, it could easily be mistaken for a modern-day cartoon or CGI. Being a terrible artist myself, I never imagined a handcrafted painting could look so smooth and realistic.
While looking at the medieval collection of the Gallery, I noticed various paintings depicting the Biblical scene of St. Michael the Archangel defeating the Devil. Carlo Crivelli’s St. Michael (1476), Bartolomé Bermejo’s St. Michael Triumphant Over the Devil (1468), and Piero della Francesca’s St. Michael (1469) all portray St. Michael similarly. He appears as a rather young looking boy wearing medieval style armory. However, Francesca opts to give the archangel wings instead of a cape. The most noticeable difference to me, though, is in the way the artists chose to represent the Devil. Crivelli’s Devil resembles a lizard-like demon, whereas Barmejo’s Devil is smaller and much more cartoonish and almost comical when compared to the triumphant St. Michael. Francesca’s is once again different from the other two, as he portrays the Devil as a simple serpent in the corner of the painting, which focuses on the archangel instead. These paintings fascinated me because of their diversity. I always knew styles of art changed over time, but I never really considered the diversity that could exist between the contemporary artists of a time period. Seeing these three paintings that show the same subject painted within a few years of one another helped me to appreciate the different ways in which artists might imagine their subjects.
Tags: Museums · Sarah
“Slavery, The Scale of Freedom” by Owen. “These scales show how hard it was and can be to achieve liberty and justice when fighting for freedom” reads the sign. The scale, the representation of inequality frightens me.
An introductory passage in the museum describes the need for us to restrain from using historical terms such as “Negro” and “Mulatto” which were derogatory terms during slavery. I think back to the time when in I resided in Azerbaijan, my college-educated parents and friends would refer to anyone who is of a mixed ethnicity as a “mulatto” which now I know is originated from the word “mule.” And when African American men in United States refer to each other as “Negros” in a “joking” manner. Or when the abolition of slavery in East Indies occurred, the government found a new source of cheap labor in India resulting with 1,500,000 Indians being subjected to the system. Reading novels such as Saalam:Brick Lane, West Indian and South Asian communities are still feeling the effects of abuse put upon them by those who were in a place of power.
Upon visiting the atlantic transatlantic slavery exhibition questions arose: Is freedom truly achieved in England and around the world? Are the facts presented at Docklands Museum part of the past or present (as in certain actions by those in power limit actions of those who have less power)? If my liberal, educated family used a derogatory term “Mullato” and did not even realize how much hurt it held behind it, how do we further educate on the topic of slavery and how much more there is behind it?
With the mixed reviews posted by the museum visitors at the end of the exhibition, I couldn’t help but question the British education system. With the comments ranging from acceptance and understanding to guilt and criticism, I wonder how comfortable the British are with their history and how much they discuss in their secondary school regarding the British participation in transatlantic slavery.
It frightens me that without education, dialogue, and willingness to change and accept the cycle will continue and a new group and culture will suffer from injustice. Words such as “Mullato” and “Negro” will be spoken and “Scales of Freedom” will never reach a balance.
Tags: Museums · Jeyla
August 25th, 2009 · 1 Comment
As I sit and write this blog post, I am listening to Claire De Lune by Debussy.
How beautiful it is, that music has the ability to bring people together, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. During the concert today, I became very fascinated with the ability to believe something to be universal. How can such a large group of people enter a Christian church, in no means looking for religion, to attend a performance by an unknown group, that solely relies on ones ability to hear. Can such an art form unite human beings? Do we have the knowledge to accept the fact that people of this world have more in common than we think, or are we too busy promoting our differences? Is peace a possibility in our future? I’m not sure, however I do believe that music is a beautiful representation of how people of the world can connect no matter the differences.
I feel like I say this every time I write a blog, but how could my day start any better. I absolutely loved watching E.L.F perform. Their first piece, which was an abridged version of the Broadway Musical “Phantom of the Opera”, was one of the most moving experiences I have had here in London. To be in such a historical building, and to watch these passionate individuals perform, was truly a beautiful site.
After the performance I headed towards the National Gallery Museum. Not only did I about wet my pants at the size of the museum, but as I walked further towards the entrance the view from its steps became more and more beautiful. Many of London’s great land marks were right in front of my eyes. “Unbelievable” is the only word i can use to describe what I saw. The Museum was what I expected and more. I have a particular interest in Rembrandt and other Dutch artists, and i think it is because of my obsession with early modern Europe. Rembrandt painted during the 16th century when Holland was a very important economic country. It is a wonderful example of how Europe was evolving over the 15th-18th centuries but still remained a central area for the arts. I really enjoyed this museum. I made it through many of the galleries but I would love to go back and spend more time in each section.
It was a wonderful day. I wake up every morning in shock that I’m lucky enough to be here. I hope every step I take reflects how grateful I am to be here. I LOVE IT!
Tags: Museums · Patsy
On our way yo St. Martin in the Field we ran into an wonderful violinist in the Tube. Each of us in the group dropped some of our excess change into his violin case and went on our way. At that point we did not realize what was waiting for us at St Martin’s. After taking our seats the E.L.F. Trio began to play and all of us were completely blown away! I find it mind boggling that such an AMAZING concert could be free open to the public.
We then all headed over to the National Gallery. The National Gallery was also free, so we all got to see Rubens, Di Vinci, Turner (my favorite), Monet, and Van Gogh for FREE. The longer I am here the more I am impressed by the extent to which London embraces and supports the arts. There are free concerts everywhere, all the time, and extrordinary people simply playing in the street or in the Tube. I would move here in an instant, if givin the chance and lets face it the finances, simply for the arts.
Upon entering Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, early this afternoon for the E.L.F. trio, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the concert and the church. I’ve been in a good number of European churches, and I admit that I’ve gotten a bit jaded on the church front. I wasn’t surprised by the decor of the church (Corinthian columns, gilded decoration, chandeliers, etc). It was quite typical of a church built in the mid-1700s. I was, however, quite enthralled by the window over the main altar of the church. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a picture of it from the church, but it seemed to be purposely distorted into a display of modern art and it certainly made an interesting juxtaposition with the existing 18th century decor and architecture. (I was unable to find more information to tell if it is an original piece of the church or a more recent addition.)
The E.L.F. trio also managed to surprise me greatly! As much as I enjoyed it, I was notexpecting a 35 minute long tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera! Anyone else have an overwhelming desire to listen to the Phantom soundtrack after that?
The National Gallery was probably the highlight of my day. Anyone who knows me really well can tell you that I love music and theatre, but I’m not one much for old paintings. We were told that when we go to the British Museum we should keep in mind how the different artefacts relate to Great Britain. Along those same lines in the National Gallery I couldn’t help but keep thinking about how the paintings managed to get to London. The ones that were by British artists or of Britain or by an artist from the Empire made sense, but how did they get such a large number of paintings from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, etc.? What really shocked me were the 13th to 15th century paintings that used to be altarpieces in churches. There was one by Filippino Lippi, called The Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome and Dominic, from about1485 that was painted for San Pencrazio church in Florence. How did these pieces of art from the walls of churches manage to get to London? I just had a bit of an issue getting my head around the idea that so many of these fragile pieces of artwork were cut up and shipped to London museums from places that were outside of Britain’s sphere of influence.
The Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome and Dominic by Filippino Lippi - picture taken from the website of the National Gallery
As I said above, I am not one who is a big fan of looking at old paintings for hours on end, but I know the big names and can recognize my fair share of famous paintings. One of the things I appreciated and was in awe of most about the National Gallery was the sheer volume of paintings they had that I was familiar with. There was one room with twenty-one paintings on the walls and I counted nine by Raphael and two by Michelangelo. (I came to realize that you could tell where a really famous painting or artist’s work was when there was a massive group of people surrounding it and traffic stopped flowing.) The US has some really nice art museums, but the content of the National Gallery blew my mind.
The main thing I learned today is that art and music transcend all language barriers. I probably heard people speaking at least a dozen different languages when I was strolling around the National Gallery and sitting in Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, but it didn’t matter because everyone can enjoy art and it is completely open to interpretation.