Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Sir John Soane Museum

September 8, 2010 · 1 Comment

Today, I visited The Sir John Soane Museum, which I must say is not your typical museum.  It is located in the building that its architect namesake built especially to house his collection of priceless artifacts in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  Like many museums of the time, the owner’s philosophy for museum organization was basically to just cover the entire building in artifacts.  The current museum staff has put a lot of effort into maintaining this philosophy, for better or for worse.  Unfortunately, no picture can do the museum justice (which sounds better than just saying that the museum doesn’t allow pictures, which is an assumption that I made, not a fact), so you’ll have to go to the museum yourself to realize exactly how overwhelming it is.  Every surface is covered in pieces from everywhere from Ancient Egypt and Greece through the Middle Ages.  While this method of displaying art has historical value and is a good way of showing a lot in a small space, I’m not sure I’m a fan of it.  Not only is it overwhelming, but it doesn’t do the art justice.  All over the place are pieces that would normally be by themselves in a case, like the sarcophagus of Seti I, one of Egypt’s early princes.  Instead, they’re all jumbled together, which makes it hard to appreciate them.  Also, the way in which some pieces were displayed, especially ancient clay pots placed around the mezzanine between the ground floor and the basement, was clearly very unsafe, if preservation of the art is the goal, which it should be.  It would be far too easy to destroy a priceless piece of pottery just by accidentally bumping it on your way past.  A painting displayed in direct sunlight also comes to mind as a piece displayed in a unsustainable way.  It’s interesting to compare the Soane Museum to other museums that we have visited in London, because most museums take very good care of their art, locking it in temperature-controlled glass cases.  One of the few things I like about the Soane’s method is that it’s very easy to relate to the art because you can actually feel it if you want to (since there were no signs saying “Do Not Touch”, though that does not mean that I touched anything, because I understand basic preservation techniques) and it’s right in front of you.  Either way, I believe the museum was a very good learning experience, and would recommend it to anyone visiting London.

Categories: 2010 MatthewM · Museums

1 response so far ↓

  •   battilaj // Sep 9th 2010 at 07:53

    I was just wondering the other day why so many of the statues and other artifacts in the V&A museum were out in the open, and I chalked it up to the British having more trust in their museum goers than Americans.

You must log in to post a comment.