Each student found an object in the British Museum that resonated with them. You can find each response below.
Scarab Beetle Statue, by Tyler
The scarab beetle was an important figure in Egyptian culture. In 1816, the British Museum brought the statue from Lord Elgin (the Elgin marbles) who found it in Constantinople. Scarabs were associated with rebirth, since they would bury their eggs with a ball of dung and the babies would literally grow out of the ground. They associated this beetle with the sun god, Khepri, who pushed the sun into the morning sky, like the beetle who pushes its dung into the ground. This colossal scarab is one of the largest representations of the scarab beetle to still exist and one of the last statues of a pharaonic deity. This statue is tough—made of quartz dorite—and it dates all the way back to the 3rd or 2nd century B.C.
I found this statue interesting because of the sheer “ancient-ness” of it. I mean, this statue has survived centuries and millenniums and is still in mint condition. Also, there were people who worshiped this monument. As a religious person, there is a lot of respect to be had behind this figure. It also struck me as a peculiar statue because I would never consider worshipping a bug. I certainly not like to have one in my house, either! But, people back in this time clearly thought different from me and it made me wonder how the scarab got connected to the sun god. As an English major, I love how they connected the metaphorical rebirth of the scarab to the sun god. The thought, energy, and passion behind this statue is what really led me to it and why I keep thinking about it the more I look at it.
Lion Dog Statues, by Nigel
Originally created as a 1st place prize for the “Edo Garden” at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015, these two adorable creatures now reside in the Japanese section of the British Museum. Statues of lion dogs have a long history in Japanese lore. Traditionally constructed of ceramic, wood, or stone, and placed at the front of Shinto shrines. The lion dogs open and closed mouths represent the cycle of life, and are always created as a pair. These lion dogs were a joint effort by Matsumoto Satoru who shaped and fired them and designer and painter Komatsu Miwa. The Two lion dogs are quite striking and stood out amongst the collection for their bright color and playful demeanor. I found them of interest in part due to their position within the collection. The display room is set out in a roughly linear fashion, walking you through time. These two of course being near in the end in the modern section. Despite being recent creations, the traditions of lion dogs within Japanese history and the design of the artists give the two a sense of age. As I observed these two I came to view them as a link between Japans past and today. The design appears to almost be inspired by modern Japanese animation, in particular the style of chibi. Which, is a style of creating things smaller than everyone else or of themselves. Often this is down in anima by drawing adult characters to appear as children.
Observing the traditional depiction of the lion dogs (golden pair, shown on right) can help to understand the chibi characteristics of the modern creations. Yet, they represent a cultural history that dates back hundreds of years. Here stands lion dogs, the representation of the cycle of life. Here, in this context, they also represent the old and the new. Maybe in some way they always have, life and death, old and new, two sides of the same coin. The design of the lion dogs pays homage to the past while continuing down a path into the future. I am sure one day these too will be a marvel of time long past, joining the cycle of life once again.
Lapith Frieze, by Mitch
The choice that I made from the British Museum was a Greek frieze in the Greek section of the British Museum. This frieze is a part of the Parthenon Marbles. The description is: The centaur tramples a falling Lapith. He grips his victim by the hair as he prepares to strike. The Lapith has one last hope – a stone that he is taking up from the ground. I was drawn to this statue because not only do I enjoy Greek statues but I also enjoy statues that tell stories. Once I looked at this frieze, I saw that it was trying to tell a story. So once I got closer and read the description, I discovered that I was correct in my assumption. After I read, I began to wonder what happened later in the story. I wanted to know more and what happened after the Lapith picked up the stone. That is what I found so interesting about the statue. The use of story and me wanted to find out more about the centaur and the Lapith.
Three Nereids, by Hannah
I was immediately drawn to this figures. For one thing, they are from Greece which hits close to home because we know this was essential the birth place of theatre. Another is the movement. The nymphs are made of stone, stone doesn’t move, yet here you can see the wind in their dresses and we can feel them dancing. Another aspect that struck me was how open they are. Most every depiction of women around this time are closed off or hiding. For example, there was a statue of the goddess Venus in the same exhibit room; she is naked but she is in a crouching position closing off her body. Almost all the statues of women I had seen around this era were closed off, trying to hide some part of their body, yet here these women are open and in a merry stance. They aren’t hiding or embarrassed by their body but rather dancing. I wonder what their expression would be if the heads of these statues were still intact.
Perikles, citizen and soldier , by Kelly
The British Museum was an amazing time, and I was very fortunate to find this bust of Perikles, a historical figure that I had learned about in an Ancient Greece history class from this last year. We specifically studied him using photos of this sculpture, which made it very real when I found it. I was even glad that I recognized the statue before I read the plaque!
Perikles was a military ruler of Athens during the 5th century BCE. He was a well-known public speaker, and was considered a “model of a citizen soldier.” I learned Perikles was a strong and decisive leader that lead Athens through her cultural and military height. This sculpture of him is described as “idealized,” which was often what leaders would request. He is shown as a strong and fair man in this bust, with his military helmet designating him as a powerful soldier. I really enjoy the craftsmanship of this sculpture as well, because it is very simple but so well preserved.
North American Pipe Tomahawk, by Conner
At the British museum I was naturally drawn to the North American section. Most would assume that is because the history there might seem more relevant to me as I am a north American, but truth be told I have always had an affinity for Native American culture and learning about their ways of life. I found that the section was most impressive and as I perused the cases I began to focus in on a particular tomahawk.
At first it seemed very strange to me because it was elaborately decorated with eagles’ feathers, hawk feathers, and turkey feathers. Further the handle was covered in an animal skin and had a pelt attached at the bottom. This struck me as off because the Native Americans are not known to be a gaudy culture who spends excessive time working on the aesthetics of an object. They are a good deal more practical than that in most of their creation and work. That’s not to say that they don’t personalize things, but this level of decoration was certainly not normal. My first instinct was that this must have belonged to a chief.
Upon closer inspection, and reading of the information plaque, I learned that the tomahawk was drilled through the center of the handle and functioned as a pipe. The pipe/tomahawk was a type of political gift one tribe might give to the chief of another tribe because it was useful in both of the two political states tribes can have between one another, peace and war. In peace time the chiefs would smoke together and talk about their people. while in war the tomahawk would be buried into a post, as is their tradition for signaling the beginning of a war.
To me this piece teaches me two distinctive things about Native American culture. The first is that they are a people based in doing goodwill to all and they value justice. I see this in the artifact because we know that it was a political gift. This means that if the gifted tribe were to become angry with you, then you have armed your enemy, such is creating a fair fight. If the gifted tribe is to remain on good terms with you, then you have given a pipe to a friend and strengthened that bond. The given of this gift has greater prospects for piece, but also treats an enemy fairly.
The second thing this object shows me is that the level of craftsmanship of Native Americans is too often thought primitive. The information plaque says that the metal for the blade may have been forged in Sheffield England. This means that the native Americans would have needed to trade for such metal, already shaped and sharpened, then added to that blade everything else that makes the tool. Working in that way is not necessarily easy and would have taken a lot of time. This is probably the first multicultural tool I have seen produced by Native Americans, but never the less it is telling that even one such piece exists.
Hercules Statue, by Ryan
This is the bust of Hercules, it is a Roman copy of the original that was made by Greek sculptor, Lysippos in 325-300 BC. It was later restored and set into a modern bust by the English sculptor Joseph Nollekens, it was found at the foot of Mount Vesuvius and presented to the British museum by Sir William Hamilton in 1776.
I came across this when we first entered the museum, at first I was not sure I really wanted to take the picture and make this bust the one thing I wanted to talk about. After a while the group separated and we all walked around discovering things for ourselves. I found a few things that I really liked but one central theme kept popping up and that was everything I took a photo of involved Greek and Roman gods.
I have always had a deep love of mythology. I love the stories that worked their way through the sands of time by word of mouth and eventually, someone had the bright idea to start writing them down, most if not all of the stories are meant to explain the unexplainable. They had no idea why natural disasters happened or why it would rain or even how.
When you stand in front of this you realize get the sense of size and how important it played. When you hear the story of Hercules and his 12 labors, fighting monsters and being a demi-god, the sculpture does justice to that.
The reason I choose this is because it was the first thing I saw and the last thing I thought about before I left. The image stays with you.