Saturday, July 5, 2008

Unexpected treasures

Back from another little jaunt to Europe, this time including two new countries for me, Germany and Belgium. Greatly enjoyed both, but I'll start with ye olde England and the wonderful museuming I did there.

A little off the beaten path, the Wallace Collection near Bond and Oxford Streets was a real treasure trove. Collected by four generations of the Marquises of Hereford (hope I've got that right), the collection, which now belongs to the nation, is still housed in the family's house. It's like the Frick or Morgan in the US, so it's a mix of furniture and walls just covered in paintings. Also many cabinets housing Sevres porcelain and various objets d'art. I thought that my guidebook was being ridiculous when it said not to miss the snuffboxes, but actually, those were the most elaborate and unbelievably crafted snuffboxes you could imagine.

Paintings include a lot of old masters, some giant Rubenses and nine Rembrandts, only one of which has an attribution which has withstood all challenges. But even if you're picky and would only want to look at that one, it would reward your patience; it's of his only son who lived to adulthood, and who died not long after his marriage. The melancholy-looking Titus stares out from a typically dark and smoky Rembrandt background, and it's quite unforgettable. I actually don't know why it isn't the centerpiece of their collection, rather than Franz Hals' Laughing Cavalier (which is great too, of course). For that matter, you can't miss the famous Sully portrait of Queen Victoria looking over her shoulder as she approaches her throne in her crown and robe. I can't believe it's there and not in the National Gallery or, for that matter, one of the palaces.

No British museum would be complete without arms and armor, including a lot of fine Eastern arms and armor like the sword of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore who caused the British so much trouble. I love Mughal stonework and inlay; it's the best there is.

You can also visit some fine examples of it in the Victoria and Albert Museum, including Shah Jehan's cup. Tipu Sultan's 'music box' is also there, which shows a full-size tiger atop a British soldier. The music box plays the tiger's growls, and the soldier's arm flaps up and down.

This time, I actually ventured out of the Indian room at the V&A to their other amazing Asian rooms, and even trotted up the stairs to find the Great Bed of Ware, just an enormous Elizabethan bed from an inn in Ware that was so famous that Shakespeare alluded to it in Twelfth Night. The Tudor collection was fantastic, and included the Drake Jewel, a famous jeweled cameo that Elizabeth gave Drake at some point, and a patent of nobility signed by Henry VIII. I get such a kick out of seeing these things. I mean, something that Elizabeth I actually held. Commissioned. Handed to Francis Drake. Can't beat it.

Oh, and the museums are both free, which to an American is a real kick.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous Ben Here--

As always, Heidi, one of the best things about your blog is its (your) ability to take me to places I've never been and make me feel that I'm really there. So more on the trip, please!


Heidi said...

Oh well, if I must!