6-Year-Old Saves Manet Painting For UK (With A Little Help)

ManetLast weekend my family and I visited the Ashmolean Museum here in Oxford. My 6-year-old son loves this place because of all the headless statues, the bow you can use to shoot deer in the Prehistoric Europe room, and the gold coin of the Roman emperor Julian, who he’s named after.

In the European art section we came across several paintings by Manet. One was “Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus,” painted in 1868. The Ashmolean has been campaigning to keep this painting in the UK.

As an Ashmolean press release explains, “The painting was purchased by a foreign buyer in 2011 for £28.35 million. Following advice from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, the picture was judged to be of outstanding cultural importance and was placed under a temporary export bar … the painting was made available to a British public institution for 27% of its market value.”

So the museum set out to raise £7.83 million ($12.25 million). Julian puzzled through the fundraising plea with a serious look on his face, reached into his pocket for some coins, and plunked them in the box.

Three days later the Ashmolean announced they’d raised the money.

This is what I love about museums. They connect people with the world’s heritage. In some cases, like with the Ashmolean, they connect them for free. Art like this doesn’t belong in the living room of some asshole banker who makes his money from sub-prime mortgages and keeps it in offshore accounts. More and more, art and antiquities are seen as investments for the super rich, commodities to be bought and sold instead of appreciated. I’ve had to mingle with these plastic people in galleries like Sotheby’s in London. It’s the only chance I have to see the art for sale there before it disappears into a private collection.

I don’t even like Manet all that much, but that’s not the point. His work has touched millions of people for more than a century. So congratulations, Ashmolean, thanks for keeping this painting in the public eye where it belongs. And thanks for teaching my kid an important lesson in democracy.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

From myth to Empire: Heracles to Alexander the Great

Alexander the great
Today’s royals have nothing on the ancients.

Alexander the Great and his predecessors enjoyed a sumptuous lifestyle that beats anything William and Kate will ever enjoy, not to mention real power as opposed to lots of TV time. Now an amazing new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, gives an insight into the life of the royal family of Macedon.

Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world before his death in 323 BC, but he didn’t come out of nowhere. He was the second-to-last king of a proud royal lineage that traced its roots to the legendary Herakles. Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy looks at the development of one of the ancient world’s greatest royal families. Their palace was almost as big as Buckingham Palace and what remains shows it was much more luxurious. There was gold, silver, ivory, and jewels everywhere, and plenty has made it into this exhibition. There’s everything from ornate golden wreaths to tiny ivory figurines like this one, which graced a couch on which a king once quaffed wine and consorted with maidens. It’s good to be the king.

The displays focus on more than 500 treasures from the royal tombs at the ancient capital of Aegae (modern Vergina in northern Greece). Three rooms show the role of the king, the role of the queen, and the famous banquets that took place in the palace.

%Gallery-122395%Especially interesting is the gallery about the role of the royal women, who are often overlooked in all the accounts of manly battles and assassinations. Women had a big role to play in religious life and presided at holy festivals and rites alongside men. They also wore heaps of heavy jewelry that, while impressive, couldn’t have been very comfortable.

The banqueting room shows what it was like to party in ancient times. Apparently the master of the banquet diluted the wine with varying proportions of water to “control the time and degree of drunkenness”!

There are even items from the tomb of Alexander IV, Alexander the Great’s son with princess Roxana of Bactria. Alex Jr had some pretty big shoes to fill, what with dad conquering most of the known world and all, but he didn’t get a chance to prove himself because he was poisoned when he was only thirteen. At least he went out in style, with lots of silver and gold thrown into his tomb with him.

This is the first major exhibition in the temporary galleries of the recently redesigned Ashmolean. Expect plenty of interesting shows from this world-class museum in coming years.

Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy runs until August 29, 2011. Oxford makes an easy and enjoyable day trip from London.

[Image © The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism – Archaeological Receipts Fund]

Oxford’s Ashmolean museum improving its world-class Egyptian galleries

Oxford, Egypt, Ashmolean
The famous Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford, England, reopened in 2009 after a £61 million ($101 million) makeover. The redesigned space is more open and airy, with more natural light and windows between exhibitions. Floorspace was doubled in size and the exhibits were made more informative and user firendly. A museum worker explained to me that part of the plan was to make it so you can always see your way out. This is to combat museum fatique. Personally I’m a museum junkie and I don’t get museum fatigue, but it sounds like a good idea.

Despite three years of work and the high price tag, the Ashmolean’s famous Egyptian galleries got left behind. There was no money to redo them at the time but after collecting another £5 million ($8.3), the galleries are now shut and going through a major overhaul. The four old Egyptian galleries were crowded and poorly lit, and will now be redesigned along the lines of the rest of the musuem. They’ll also expand into a fifth gallery to give the collection more room.

The Ashmolean Museum has been collecting Egyptian artifacts since 1683, when it was founded as the oldest public museum in the world. Its displays tell the story of one of the world’s greatest civilizations from its prehistoric beginnings until it became part of the Greek and Roman empires. Its collection of predynatic artifacts is the best outside of Egypt and show how Egypt developed into a superpower.

The Egyptian galleries will reopen in November 2011 and Gadling plans to be there to cover it.

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