Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Can I Touch It? The British Museum, more thoughts on identity, and of course A R T !

September 15, 2009 · 1 Comment

Today I visited the British Museum. Yes, I know, I am probably the LAST person to go there. But to be honest, I was really putting it off. Now that may seem strange to you, since if you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know I ADORE museums. Yet, for some reason the idea of museum that I could spend my entire life trying to see the entire collection of, just didn’t get me going. I was told it was a history museum, told it was vast, told it was cool. But still. I’m not a history museum fan and I guess the past month has really museumed me out. With all that being said, I LOVED it.

Egypt Wing

Egypt Wing of museum

And I loved it for several different reasons. The first and less detailed reason was what I faced when I first ventured into a gallery. It was the Egypt wing. I am not a fan. I don’t dislike all the mummy cases and pharaoh busts, they just aren’t really my thing. But back in Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the museum that I have been going to since my stroller days, the first place where I took an art class, and where I spent my summer interning, there is a HUGE Egypt wing. And suddenly, there I was, middle of the British Museum Egypt wing, in London, in England, in a FOREIGN COUNTRY, and home, all at once. I didn’t stay in the wing long, but the small boost of Brooklyn love I got from the wing was just what I needed before we embark on our new adventure to Norwich.

The Greece Wing of thw British Museum

The Greece Wing of the British Museum

Another reason I loved it was on the pure artistic level. As a museum lover and art minor, walking into the museum facing the Greek statues and really analyzing them art historically was so amazing. I really took my time looking a few pieces rather than trying to see everything in the overwhelming collection. I noted the realism in the Hellenistic section of the Greece wing. I got right up close to the statues and looked at the small details, the way the flesh was rolled where the body curved, or the controposto (weight distribution), or the way the head resting on the elbow really had the right weight. Even the way the lighting on the marble gave it a warm yellow hue, almost like the warmth of skin and the human body, making the figures see that much more alive and real. Often I found myself inching closer and closer to a figure wanting to touch the marble, wanting to feel the coolness of it just to remind myself it was not warm flesh.

There was on statue of a small boy, Marble statues of a boy, the so-called ‘spinaro.’ This one was one of the most touching. The boy was pulling a torn out of his foot. And the expression on his face was just right, to show a little boy’s concentration and fascination. Having a little brother myself may have biased me towards this sculpture over others, and maybe it was just another thing in the museum that made me feel at home. But really, even the way to boy was crouched over suited the narrative of the piece.

On another note, the British Museum has so many connections to our course here in London. Aside from its fame Reading Room that relates to the literary history of this area, there is always the basic collection as a representation of all the different communities and cultures present. With a wing from almost every continent, the British Museum has very few things that could be considered wholly “British.” But at the same time, isn’t that really what we have learned here this past month, that NOTHING really is WHOLLY British? I think it is. In essence, the British museum encompasses our whole class and our final conclusion that there is no British identity. That there are only many pieces from many different elements of people’s lives that use to help with their personal identification.

Categories: Megan · Museums
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1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 19th 2009 at 15:42

    I just saw what I assume to be a copy of the “spinaro” at the Felbrigg house on the north coast today on a much needed outing with the family.
    Good final paragraph. Isn’t the point of the British Museum’s “Britishness” that it comes from everywhere the empire touched?

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