London Day 1: The British Museum

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August 2nd 2017
Published: May 8th 2022
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The British MuseumThe British MuseumThe British Museum

British Museum. Entrance forecourt. Built in 1823-1852. Great Russell Street. "The Principal Facade, towards (S.) Great Russell Street, with two projecting wings and a portico in the centre, is 370 ft. in length. In front it has an Ionic colonnade of 44 columns. The pediment above the Portico, which is borne by two rows of eight columns, is adorned with sculptures by Westmacott : on the right, Progress of the Human Race; on the left, allegorical figures of Mathematics, the Drama, Poetry, Music, and Natural Philosophy".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0636p1
Our British Airways flight from Washington Dulles arrived at Heathrow at 10:15 a.m. Customs and baggage claim were smooth and soon we were meeting our ground transportation. We arranged ground transportation to our hotel (and later to Southampton) through Princess Cruises. Unlike the typical situation of joining with fellow passengers on a motorcoach, we found this time we had a private driver and car (a Mercedes no less) waiting for us!

The M4 Motorway brought us from Heathrow to London. The first sight of London proper was the tower of the London Museum of Water & Steam. The Victorian era tower was once a standpipe for the Kew Bridge Pumping Station. The M4 devolved into a series of famous thoroughfares passing in turn the Victoria & Albert Museum, Harrod's, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. A mini tour of London before arriving at our hotel in Holborn!

Ensconced in our hotel (the Grange Holborn Hotel), the question was how to best use the afternoon. Rain threatened, so our decision was the British Museum over the Tower of London. This turned out to be a wise move as showers shortly appeared.

The British Museum was less than five blocks for
Rosetta StoneRosetta StoneRosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone. British Museum. "In the middle is the celebrated 'Stone of Rosetta', a tablet of black basalt with a triple inscription. It was found by the French near the Rosetta mouth of the Nile in 1798, but passed into the possession of the English in 1802. One of the inscriptions is in the hieroglyphic or sacred character, the second in the enchorial, demotic, or popular character, and the third in Greek. It was these inscriptions which led Young and Champollion to the discovery of the hieroglyphic language of ancient Egypt".--Baedeker. IMG_1798
the hotel. On the way, we passed Bloomsbury Square with its terrace houses and statue of James Fox. The queue at the museum gates was long, everyone seeing it as a refuge from the rain. By the time our place arrived at the gates, the guard announced the front entrance was closed due to the number of people in the security queue. We would all have to go to the rear entrance. It was just as long again a wait there, as the rear entrance is the tour group and motorcoach entrance. But finally, we were inside! We headed straight for...the museum cafe. The British Museum has a nice one with a grab and go selection of sandwiches. There are cakes, too, but a sandwich and crisps for lunch was our thinking. Now it was time for the main event. We saw the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, Assyrian Winged Lion, cuneiform tablets and the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, among the many exhibits of classical antiquity.

The British Museum was founded in the mid-18th century. It began in a former great house located on the same spot where it is now. The museum's 19th century Classical Revival facade is well suited

Elgin Marbles. Pediment corner angle, thought to represent the river Ilissos. West Pediment A "In the left angle we observe the torso (A) of a recumbent male figure, usually identified as the river-god llissos, but more probably, perhaps, a hero related to the family of Cecrops".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0580
to represent the treasurers it contains. The core of the British Museum's collection was assembled during a time of far-flung archaeological and exploring expeditions that excavated the wonders of the ancient world and brought them back to London for public display and scholarly study. The area where the Reading Room of the British Museum Library once stood (collections moved out to the new British Library in 1997) is now the Great Court and the gift shop.

The British Museum was a must-see for us and should be on anyone's itinerary for London. As with any of the world's great museums, you can't see it all in one visit. There is much else to see on return visits.

Our visit began by seeking out what we wanted to see most: the Elgin Marbles. The Elgin Marbles are the remains of the Pediments and Frieze of the Parthenon in Athens. The sculptures had been dislodged from the Parthenon by the explosion of 1687. Lord Elgin wished to study and draw them, but ultimately received permission from the Turkish rulers of Greece to bring them to London. The 5th century BC sculptures are arranged around a large gallery as they would

Elgin Marbles. Iris. West Pediment N. "Next comes the torso (N) of a female figure advancing at a rapid gait and clad in a short robe, with holes on the back for the insertion of wings. This is probably Iris, accompanying the chariot of Poseidon";.--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0582
have appeared on the Parthenon. A visitor can admire them at eye level and gain an idea of what they might have looked like in place. They are simply amazing, conveying motion and human expression in solid stone. I'm thrilled to have encountered them.

On the way to the Elgin Room (Duveen Gallery), we stopped at the Rosetta Stone. I had to stop for a while and consider what I was seeing. This was the real Rosetta Stone! The triplicate script that provided to key to deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Adjacent to the Elgin marbles is the Nereid Monument exhibit. The 4th century BC Nereid Monument is a temple tomb found in Xanthos in what is present-day Turkey. It demonstrates the extension of Greek influence over the Lycian culture of Asia Minor.

Nearby is the Assyrian exhibit. Two of the giant winged bulls with human heads that one always associates with the ancient Assyrians are on display. Along with the winged creatures is a display of 8th century BC cuneiform tablets telling stories and legends of great deeds and battles. The tablets form some of the oldest written primary sources we have.

We also had time to
Chariot HorsesChariot HorsesChariot Horses

Elgin Marbles. Two Chariot Horses. East Pediment B-C. "Beginning on the left, we first observe two arms and a mutilated human head (A), in front of which are two spirited horses' heads (B, C), also considerably damaged. These are considered to represent a group of Helios, the god of the rising sun, ascending in his chariot from the depths of the ocean, his outstretched arms grasping the reins of his steeds"--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0599p1
inspect displays of Grecian decorative arts: jewelry and red figure pottery. There is so much more, from a bust of Pericles to a sculpture of Venus meant to be observed from all four sides, each view conveying a different impression of the figure. Then there are the Egyptian exhibits down to a Moai from Easter Island.

In the evening, we returned to the vicinity of the museum for dinner at the Museum Tavern, located right across the street from the British Museum. Tables can be booked in advance (by telephone or online), which we did. Our table was waiting, a good move as the pub was crowded. (There is outside seating, but this rain was not conducive to it this evening.) Despite it being in a heavily visited location, I would say that predominately locals were here after work. The wooden bar and fittings give it the perfect British pub atmosphere. I placed our food order at the bar and it was served at our table. I ordered the Ultimate Fish and Chips. A nice cod fillet was accompanied by mushy peas, pickled onions, curry sauce and tartar sauce. It was very good! The Museum Tavern is something of

Elgin Marbles. Thought to represent Dionysos. East Pediment D. "Next comes a youthful male figure (D), leaning in a half-recumbent posture on a rock and facing the sun. This figure (the only one of which the head is preserved) was formerly called Theseus, but, in sprite of the short hair, the panther's skin covering the rock and other attributes render its identification as Dionysos more probable".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0597
a museum itself. The pub dates to 1723 and has operated under its present name since 1755. The present building dates to 1855.

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 26


Persephone, Demeter, HebePersephone, Demeter, Hebe
Persephone, Demeter, Hebe

Elgin Marbles. Persephone, Demeter, Hebe. British Museum. East Pediment E, F, G. "Next to Dionysos is a group (E, F) of two dignified female figures seated upon chests. That to the left is probably Kore (Persephone), while the other, somewhat higher and more majestic, who turns with an appearance of lively interest towards the central group, is her mother Demeter. Others describe these as Attic Hours. Then comes (G) a girlish figure, clad in a garment open on the left, hurrying towards the left, looking backwards in great excitement towards the central group. This is probably Hebe; the former identification with Iris, messenger of the gods, is negatived by the absence of wings".--Baedeker 1915 DSC_0589
Hestia, Aphrodite and DioneHestia, Aphrodite and Dione
Hestia, Aphrodite and Dione

Elgin Marbles. Thought to represent Hestia and Aphrodite and her mother, Dione. East Pediemnt K. East Pediment L and M. "The following group (K, L, M) corresponds in its general design to the figures D, E, F. K turns from her companions towards the central group. L is only prevented from doing the same by M, who reclines in her lap and has apparently just wakened from sleep. The beauty of this last-named magnificent figure is enhanced by the semi-transparent garment which falls from her shoulder. We have here probably Aphrodite resting on the lap of her mother Dione, who was worshiped on the Acropolis".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0591
Athena and HephaistosAthena and Hephaistos
Athena and Hephaistos

Elgin Marbles. Athena and Hephaistos. East Frieze V, 36-37 "This frieze forms a connected whole and represents, in low relief, the festive }. which ascended to the Acropolis at the end of the Panathenaea or the purpose of presenting to the Goddess a peplos, or robe, woven an embroidered by Athenian virgins. ... To the right appear Athena, unarmed but wearing the aegis with its border of serpents, Hephaestos, her rejected admirer, gallantly turned towards her ..."--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0609p1

Elgin Marbles. "This is one of the most accomplished of all the frieze blocks. The shallow relief yields no less than four horses, vividly portrayed with tossing heads and flickering manes. This drama is echoed in the billowing cloak and flying crest of the foot soldier riding behind". South Frieze XXXI 78, 79. "...four-horse chariots from which armed men (apobates) spring as they proceed, and finally troops of noble Athenian youths on horseback, advancing at a rapid pace".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0577
Centaur and LapithCentaur and Lapith
Centaur and Lapith

Elgin Marbles. Centaur and Lapith. South Metope XXVIII "Metopes ... from the Parthenon, being the sculptures which filled the intervals between the triglyphs of the external frieze. They represent the battle of the Centaurs and Lapithae. and are executed in very high relief".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0604
Nereid MonumentNereid Monument
Nereid Monument

Nereid Monument. Reconstruction (1969). British Museum. A sculptured Lykian temple tomb from Xanthos in present-day Turkey. The ruins were rediscovered by British traveller Charles Fellows in the early 1840s. Fellows had them shipped to the British Museum. The tomb dates from around 390 to 380 BC, and was probably the tomb of Arbinas. "Nereid Room, containing the sculptures from the so-called Nereid Monument at Xanthos in Lycia (end of 5th cent. B.C.). ... on the S. wall of the room is a 'restoration' of one of the sides of the monument. Nine Nereids, some much mutilated, stand in this room. On the walls are fragments of four friezes that adorned the building. The broad frieze, supposed to have encircled the base, represents a battle between Greeks and Asiatic warriors, some of whom are mounted ... "--Baedeker 1915. IMG_1811
Crouching LionCrouching Lion
Crouching Lion

Nereid Monument: Crouching Lion placed at the foot of the Nereid Monument. British Museum. "On each side of the door on the N. wall is a lion from the monument ... "--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0614

Nereid Monument: Nereid. British Museum. "Nereid Room, containing the sculptures from the so-called Nereid Monument at Xanthos in Lycia (end of 5th cent. B.C.). ... Nine Nereids, some much mutilated, stand in this room".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0620

Hydria (water jar), made in Athens ca. 510 BC. Signed by Phintias as painter. Athenian red-figure vase. British Museum. DSC_0621

Perikles, (d. 429 BC). Roman 2nd century copy of a Greek original. British Museum. "On pedestals in the middle of the room: 549. Head of Pericles (a Roman copy of an original by Cresilas, a contemporary of Phidias)"--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0623p1
Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)
Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)

Statue of crouching Aphrodite ("Lely's Venus"). Roman copy 1st-2nd century of a Greek original. IMG_1821
Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)
Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)

Statue of crouching Aphrodite ("Lely's Venus"). Roman copy 1st-2nd century of a Greek original. British Museum. IMG_1823
Amenhotep IIIAmenhotep III
Amenhotep III

Qartzite head of Amenhotep III. Thebes, ca. 1400 BC. British Museum. "Colossal head of Amenophis III.; De Quincey speaks of this head as uniting 'the expressions of ineffable benignity with infinite duration'".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0629p1
Cuneiform TabletCuneiform Tablet
Cuneiform Tablet

Cuneiform tablet. Assyrian, ca. 692-692 BC. South-west Palace Courtyard, Nineveh. British Museum. "The glass-cases in the middle of the hall contain some of the most interesting of the cuneiform tablets and cylinders from the library enlarged by Sardanapalus at Nineveh, including historical, geographical, philological, official, and legal documents of great value".--Baedeker 1915. IMG_1826
Winged Bull with Human HeadWinged Bull with Human Head
Winged Bull with Human Head

Khorsabad: The Palace of Sargon, built for Sargon II (721-705 BC). Winged Bull with human head. British Museum. "Assyrian Transept ... the eastern part contains antiquities from Khorsabad (about B.C. 720), from the excavations of Messrs. Rawlinson and Layard. ... In the E. or Khorsabad section, two colossal bulls with human heads..."--Baedeker. IMG_1818p1

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