Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bronze - an exhibition I'll be sad to miss

Asante Ewer, British Museum. Height: 62 cm. Room 40 (Medieval Europe)

This lidded bronze ewer is something I must see. In 1896 it was captured by British troops from a royal palace in what is now Ghana, but how it got there is a mystery.  It can be dated to 1390-1400, and once belonged to the English royal household of Richard II. 

It's decorated with lions and lying stags, Richard II's emblems.  The jug's front sport the English royal arms current between 1340 & 1405. The neck is decorated with roundels containing a falcon with spread wings. The inscription around the belly is in Lombardic letters and reads:

       He that wyl not spare when he may
       He shal not spend when he would
       Deme the best in every dowt
       Til the trowthe be tryid owte

       ('He that shall not save when he can
       Shall not spend when he wants.
       Give the benefit of the doubt
       Until the truth comes out').

The jug is in the Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy until 9th December.  An exhibition I should love to visit, but I fear it's unlikely I'll be in London before then.  But as the jug itself belongs to the British Museum no doubt I'll catch up with it there one fine day. 

In the Middle Ages rock crystal from Madagascar ended up in Europe, even though Madagascar was not even known to exist. The ewer turning up in West Africa may be an example in reverse of these complex medieval trading links, according to exhibition curator Professor David Ekserdjian (quoted in The Guardian)

'The Chariot of the Sun', Trundholm, Zealand, Denmark. Early Bronze Age, 14th century BCE.
Bronze and gold, 95 x 60 x 25 cm. National Museum, Copenhagen.
Photo Roberto Fortuna & Kira Ursem, The National Museum of Denmark.

This Chariot of the Sun is 3,500 years old, found in a Danish peat bog. A wheeled horse pulls an incised disk, one side gilded to symbolise the sun, the other plain denoting night. According to the Guardian article, this haunting artefact “is a work of totemic power that can take the viewer across centuries into a different world and different belief system, when the daily passage of the sun across the heavens was a matter of both mystery and life and death,” and is Denmark's greatest national treasure.

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