Codebreakers and Groundbreakers

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I mentioned this upcoming exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in my last post – I’m very pleased to say that ‘Codebreakers and Groundbreakers‘ is now open (and on until February 2018)! The exhibition brings together two apparently quite different stories – the discovery and decipherment of the Linear B tablets and the breaking of the Enigma codes at Bletchley Park during World War II – to emphasize the two main threads which connect them. Most obviously, both of them are about decipherment and making unreadable texts readable – whether that’s three-thousand-year-old clay tablets written in an undeciphered script and an unknown language, or messages that have been deliberately encrypted to (try to) stop them being read by a wartime enemy.

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Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds (review)

P1070168 I recently went to see the British Museum’s current blockbuster exhibition, ‘Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds’ (on until November 27th), which showcases recent finds from the cities of Thonis-Herakleion and Canopus, port cities on the edge of the Nile Delta which are now largely underwater; the exhibition also includes material from the BM’s excavations at Naukratis (a Greek trading settlement upriver from the two ports) as well a large number of loans from Egyptian museums. It’s a pretty stunning collection, particularly the sculptures – a giant statue of Hapy, god of the Nile’s flood, opens the exhibition, and later on there’s another pair of giant (i.e over 5m tall) statues, representing a Ptolemaic king and queen; some of the smaller statues are equally impressive, like the beautiful one of Queen Arsinoe II wearing an essentially transparent piece of drapery that shows incredible skill in carving.
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Vikings: Life and Legend – Review

Vikings: Life and Legend

The British Museum’s first blockbuster exhibition in their new temporary exhibition gallery has been getting plenty of publicity, mostly about the arrival of the longest Viking longship ever discovered – or at least, the 20% of its wooden frame that survives, plus a reconstruction of the rest – from Denmark. A new gallery, a giant longship, and Vikings! How could a group of Classicists resist…?

 

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Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum – Review

The British Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition has proved incredibly popular – tickets are already sold out until late June, and it’s been getting rave reviews. Going to visit seemed like a good way for a group of classicists to spend the Bank Holiday, so as promised, here are some thoughts arising from the exhibition itself and the lengthy discussions we had afterwards. I know other people who’ve already visited may have very different opinions – I look forward to continuing the discussion in the comments!

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Bronze at the Royal Academy

Bronze at the RA: the Chimaera of Arezzo

The Royal Academy’s current exhibition is, unusually, devoted not to a particular artist, period, or culture, but to a single material: bronze. Choosing to display works from so many different cultures in a thematic arrangement was certainly a bold move on the part of the RA, but it has produced a spectacular exhibition, incorporating works from ancient Egypt, classical antiquity, the Etruscans, Bronze Age Europe, the medieval and Renaissance periods, the Middle East, China, South-East Asia, and Western Africa, alongside 19th-and 20th-century and contemporary art; the sheer visual impact of so many bronzes collected in a single place is quite stunning. Continue reading “Bronze at the Royal Academy”

The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China

The Search for Immortality — Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum’s current exhibition showcases the treasures found in the royal tombs of the Han Dynasty, rulers of a vast empire encompassing much of what is now modern China, from the 2nd-1st century B.C. (i.e. contemporary with the late Roman Republic).* The Han emperors and kings were buried in tomb complexes containing everything they might need in the afterlife, from food supplies and cooking facilities to tomb guardians and vast quantities of jade, believed to offer protection from evil spirits after death. Continue reading “The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China”