Our trip to London to see the exhibition at the British Museum “Life and death. Pompeii and Herculaneum” had been long awaited (the exhibition being so popular that we had to book a few months in advance). When the weekend finally came around it proved to be the hottest of weekend of the year so far. Not ideal for city slicking, but after all those disappointing summers, no complaining allowed either.
The hotel near to the British Library was lovely, and from the 9th floor there were spectacular views of the Library piazza, the beautifully restored St Pancras Station and the newly renovated Kings Cross. I don’t appear to have taken a photo of this, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!
A nice relaxed coffee break in the British Library started the trip off before a very hot but thankfully short walk to the British Museum. On the way plenty of people were enjoying the free London green spaces (more like brown, dry spaces though due to the prolonged sunny weather)
The British Museum was heaving. It’s still free, and it’s still one of the best attractions in Europe so why shouldn’t it be busy? It wouldn’t be the same without visiting the Egyptian Gallery and the Parthenon Gallery. In fact this appears to be where I took most of my photographs. Here’s one!
The “Life and death” exhibition is being staged in the old British Library rotunda. It’s probably one of the last to be so as the new BM exhibition space opens in 2014 and then the rotunda will return to its original format and I am sure lots of people will be fascinated once more to see where Karl Marx and his peers once sat in silent study. (Libraries used to be silent! And hot food and coffee free)
There’s been an ash mountain of reviews of the exhibitions that are more informed and studious than mine but I really enjoyed my visit. The exhibits are set out in a typical representation of a home in Pompeii, as it would have been in situ with the street life. And the second strand is that it’s set against the timeline of the Vesuvius eruption (although no-one actually knows the precise sequence of events) The emphasis is very much on the everyday, presenting a snap shot of when the disaster struck which I thought did resonate with the “ordinary and un-extraordinary” of what was an extraordinary event.
There was plenty of what was important to the average citizen, food and drink, entertainment and religion. The tavern fresco was most amusing and timeless. Everyone starts in good spirits but after a little too much gambling and vino it all ends in rather bad tempered spirit.
Lots of “preserved” food items; dates, grain and bread. The dormouse jar was popular with the children going around the exhibition aided and abetted by the Primus dog trail. (Primus the name adopted from the very famous mosaic of the guard dog from the House of Orpheus.
Plenty of everyday objects; a crib, hair brush, mirror, frescos and some more lewd items (I understand the Brack Bandit is working on a set of garden chimes inspired by the visit?)
Another of my favourite frescos was from the slaves’ shrine which showed Bacchus as a big bunch of grapes with Mount Vesuvius in the background. I liked the idea of the House of the tragic poet, wondering if around the corner there was a House of the comedy poet?
The “people” on display were kept to a minimum as they were rather spooky, like looking at ghosts. The main exhibit being a young family captured as they were overwhelmed by the intense heat, instantaneously killed by the 400C pyroclastic surge moving at 30 metres a second and buried under the pumice storms. I couldn’t begin to imagine it, what thoughts on that day in AD79? See the storm out? Nowhere to run to and nowhere to seek suitable shelter?
No photography was allowed in the exhibition so I suggest you visit the British Museum website or even visit the exhibition before it closes in September and most of the exhibits return to Italy.
Onto Sunday, and the heat was continuing to rise, so after a very long linger over a croissant and a small bucket of coffee in St Pancras ( at a very nice cafe called Le pain quotiden.) it was on to Trafalgar Square.
This time to visit the National Portrait Gallery. It’s not a gallery I have visited before, but “free” so well worth a look. However an unexpected bonus was that the Laura Knight Portraits exhibition had just opened (entrance fee required) I really enjoyed seeing the WW2 paintings (on loan from the Imperial War Museum). A moment in time, albeit of national peril, ordinary but vibrant.
And then, a surprise, a familiar face, the 9th Duchess of Rutland sketch on loan from Haddon Hall. (How many times have I seen that, and now I had followed her to London!)
And all too soon………….time to go home. A sweltering weekend in London, but great fun.