Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Museums of London: A Geek’s Dream Come True

September 19, 2010 · No Comments

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, in case anyone has missed it: I’m a huge Anglophile. If it’s English, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll love it. Coming to the UK has literally been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. A huge part of why that is lies in the museums it has to offer.

As an English major specialising in 19th Century British Literature and a Medieval & Early Modern Studies Major focusing on Shakespeare and the history of the Tudor dynasty, I’ve been most excited about the museums whose collections have items specifically to do with my areas of interest. These are not always the ones you would think: for example, the British Museum turned out to be somewhat disappointing to me [not to discount its quality or credit at all: I mean, the Rosetta stone was pretty damn cool, as were the Lamassus that I studied in my summer art history course and then got to see in the flesh . . . errr, in the stone?] but the highlight of my visit was the following:

a bust of Shakespeare


Engravings of Henry VIII

[all photos, unless otherwise mentioned are personal]

Disappointing, no? I thought so.

On the other hand, I was magnificently surprised by the museums we visited in Greenwich. Having no interest in science whatsoever, I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the Greenwich Observatory, particularly the Octagonal (?) Room:

The Queen’s House too was a lovely surprise. Unfortunately, I left my camera in my bag which I checked when we came in, but imagine this scenario:

Elizabeth has somewhat unwillingly accompanied her friends into the Queen’s House. No sooner does she enter the first gallery but with whom does she come face to face?

That’s right. My good buddy Henry the Eighth (photo courtesy: http://www.nmm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/on-display/the-tudors-at-greenwich-gallery)

I enjoyed the Museum of London and the Docklands Museum too but (as I later discovered) because I had picked up some sort of stomach flu, I wasn’t really in the best state of mind to appreciate them fully. I plan to revisit the Museum of London tomorrow – if I’m up to it, for now I’ve got some weird ear, nose and throat infection – and take lots of photos (I had my camera with me when we went as a class, but it decided to die halfway through the Plague presentation). I particularly enjoyed looking at their Vauxhall Gardens presentation and the recreation of Dickens’ London.

I have already expressed my opinions of the National Portrait Gallery elsewhere (http://blogs.dickinson.edu/norwichhumanities/2010/09/national-portrait-gallery-my-two-pence/) but will emphasise again the sheer joy I experienced seeing up close and personal paintings that I’ve looked at in textbooks countless times, particularly this one:

[Elizabeth I coronation portrait- http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw02070/Queen-Elizabeth-I?sText=queen+elizabeth&submitSearchTerm_x=0&submitSearchTerm_y=0&search=ss&OConly=true&firstRun=true&LinkID=mp01452&role=sit&rNo=2)

I’m uncertain whether or not to call our visits to places like Stonehenge, Wesminster Abbey, the Tower of London, or the Roman Baths (in Bath) “museum visits” but, while I had a tremendous time at all of this sites HUGELY significant to my areas of interest, I couldn’t help but notice that they had been “tourist-ized.” Case in point: at the Tower of London, as you look at the stairs where the bones of the two murdered Princes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princes_in_the_tower) were supposedly found, you would hear sound effects on a loop which included such gems as “Mother! Where are you?” and “I thought I was supposed to be king.” This made it feel more like Disneyland and the walkthrough of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle than anything else I’ve seen here so far. Also, they look “interactive displays” perhaps a bit too far:

Yes. An electronic counter which allows visitors to vote on who they think murdered the princes. Besides the sheer cheesiness of this attraction, I’m quite irritated to see that Richard III is still getting the rotten end of the stick. Our dear tour guide John agrees with me on this!

Beyond the sometimes-unbearably touristy nature of the Tower’s displays, it was still incredible to stand in the buildings where so much history – history that is of particular interest to me – went down.

I’ve gone to quite a few museums by myself as well. Much as I love our group, sometime it’s nice to go at your own pace or go somewhere that not everyone would want to go. Holly and I experienced this in our visit to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath which, for us, having taken English 399 with Professor Moffat on Austen, didn’t really contain anything we didn’t already know (thanks, Moffat!) but was good fun nonetheless:

On one of our free days, I hit two museums I particularly wanted to see: the Tate Britain (NOT the Tate Modern *shudder*) and the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.

First of all, I wanted to see the Tate specifically for a portrait of Elizabeth I that I had read was in their collection which, upon visiting, I discovered was either an error on my part or had been taken off display. Nevertheless, I enjoyed wandering around the galleries, particularly when I came across these two pictures, side by side:

On the top, “Ophelia” by Sir John Everett Millais and “The Lady of Shallot” by John William Waterhouse on the bottom.

Both of these paintings are iconic to me and a print of the “Ophelia” adorns the door to my bedroom at home.

As for the Queen’s Gallery, I was thrilled to go for several reasons. First, I wanted to see Buckingham Palace without being a total tourist about it. Second, the current exhibition was entitled Victoria and Albert: Art and Love and I think Victoria and Albert have one of the sweetest love stories in history.

Third and most important, one of the core components of the exhibition was works by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, my ALL TIME FAVOURITE artist, a court portrait painter who painted at least 120 works for Victoria and her family. Again, the special joy here was seeing up close and personal works that I have previously drooled over in textbook or digital format, such as these two:

Victoria and Albert, by Winterhalter.

From the Royal Collection (http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/microsites/vanda/MicroSection.asp?themeid=841)

This is, obviously, not a final account of my museum experiences in London and England as a whole. I fully expect to enjoy more in the next few days (hopefully, if I can get myself feeling better) and many repeat visits over the course of the year.

Categories: 2010 Elizabeth · Museums

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