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  • Writer's pictureAhmed

Gruesome and Beautiful

Updated: May 6

It's been a while since the last post as we've been on vacation. We had a marvelous few weeks in England and were able to catch up with friends, fellow traders and customers as well as visit all our favorite places in London.

The Antiques market at Spitalfields was essential and there were all the fond memories of wandering around Hyde Park and Hampstead on the cusp of Autumn. Despite our best intentions it was a crammed few weeks, and we always seemed to be on the run in between meetings all the time. However we were lucky to be able to take time to visit some places we had never really been to together.

We had always intended to visit the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and we found we had a Saturday free to take the train up (or more properly 'down to Oxford'). In general, Oxford on the weekend in a busy place- it's even busier when you arrive at the beginning of Freshers week for the Universities. The town was packed with new wide-eyed students, their nervous parents as well as locals trying to do their usual shopping, and tourists with bad timing like us.

Using Léa's buggy as a battering ram down the narrow streets we managed to barge through gawping hordes to the Museum to find an oasis of tranquility. I've wanted to visit since the Ashmolean was renovated in 2009 and after such a long wait (museum geeks get used to long stretches of time) we were not disappointed. We enjoyed the lead exhibition on magic and witchcraft, 'Spellbound' but the museum's permanent spaces were just as intriguing. We both found ourselves taken by a room of Dutch still-life paintings.

Afterwards we ran over to Oxford's Museum of Natural History. The main galleries of the MNH made no apology for being attractive for children- unlike the studious calm of the Ashmolean here we found the boisterous curiosity of a giant nursery. Obviously, it was still great for adults with dinosaurs, skeletons and plenty of taxidermy!

Our actual target and third museum of the day was accessed at the back of the Natural History. Suddenly calmer was the huge grand hall of the Pitt-Rivers Museum.

I've read about and even studied the Pitt-Rivers before and it was also worth the wait. In essence, the museum is a giant collection of Victorian cabinets of curiosities. Each vitrine is packed with anthropological artifacts from across the world. It is organised by theme and geography such as theatre masks from Japan, European votives or....

It was odd, gruesome, frequently breathtaking and often beautiful....

The Pitt-Rivers, by keeping its Victorian organisation is quite far off the norm for modern curatorial practice in major museums and galleries. However, by keeping its densely packed cabinets it has retained the sense of wonder that we crave when we go to museums like this. It's not as educational perhaps and gives us little information about cultural or historical contexts. But, I hope when Léa is older she will be fascinated by these objects as she is now and will want to find out more about where they came from.

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