More of the British Museum

By Rob Packer

The incomparable British Museum

The British Museum is one of my favourite places in London and I’ve written about it before here. As I was looking through the photos to put on this blog, I started thinking about the advantages of growing up in a city with such a wide swathe of world history at hand—the BBC’s excellent History in the World in a Hundred Objects to see how wide it really is. At the same time, the museum’s history reawakens memories of European colonialism’s ambiguous legacy and the can of worms of restitution. The image of foreigners carting off a nation’s history is an unpleasant form of expropriation (the Parthenon Marbles is just the most famous example) and restitution would be a fillip both for national pride and the tourism industry. At the same time, the argument that such and such cultural artefact has been better preserved in this or that museum might actually be true in some cases, but it sounds self-serving and overly simplistic to apply it to the entire collection, resting as it does on counterfactuals. After all, we often have no way of proving that monument X would have survived if piece Y had survived in situ. Read more of this post

The Bassae Reliefs

By Rob Packer

Centaurs and Lapiths on the Bassae Friezes

It also seemed a geeky London fantasy to use the city’s free museums to fulfil those whims that ambush you at 4pm in the office or 3pm on a Saturday in Oxford Street: an uncontrollable itch to see—I don’t know—a Gandhara Buddha (British Museum) or an El Greco painting (National Gallery). In this fantasy, you then leave immediately desire satisfied, although more likely is you stick around, flitting from the Indus to Korea to Mesopotamia to the Hebrides.

I think I’ve only ever done this two or three times and, since I left London, I only have Wikipedia. My most recent trip to the British Museum, though, had purpose and schedule: to see the Bassae reliefs. Read more of this post

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