7.04.2008

Exhibition of Elgin's Firman in the British Museum

Gosh, I'm pretty darn sure that the British Museum repeatedly told me that they had not been denying people access to the Firman, nor 'hiding' the fact that they have had it for two years now ... and that one of their grounds for justifying that they were being entirely open and above board was that it was going on display in one of the Duveen slip galleries in June. And up on their web site.

So I walked through the BM yesterday, on my way to the ICS library, to see their new display.

There was a new display in the south slip, and it was interesting.

Some tessarae formerly in the collection of Thomas Burgon, picked up in 1804-14. They are assigned to the 12th century mosaic of the Madonna and child which was once in the apse, so presumably were found in the east end of the Parthenon interior. I've always emphasised the long history of the post-Classical Parthenon, so it's nice to see a few teeny weeny little bits of it from the Byzantine period.

A mortar fragment loaned by Eton College, which was found partially exploded on top of one of the Parthenon's walls. It is of a type used by the Venetians in th 17th century, so is believed to be one of the shells thrown at the Parthenon in 1687 ... and that caused it to explode.





A bronze medal ("plaque or lid"), with an engraved cross on the reverse. It was found at the east end of the Parthenon, and is believed to be 17th century northern Italian on stylist grounds - so is associated with the Venetian siege again. The Venetians were the first to try to remove bits of the Parthenon sculptures - though Morosini failed - so it's nice to see that they gave a bit back, and didn't just take.

I couldn't for the life of me see the Firman or any other document from the St. Clair archive that went on display last month. I admit that because of all those weird tropical parasites and viruses I picked up, my eyesight is not what it used to be. So I went to the Information Desk to ask.

On my way to the Information Desk I passed this very impressive fencing display. I'm not sure what it has to do with the Museum, but obviously if the BM can organise this, it surely must be able to organise a display of the Firman.

Apparently the Information Desk staff have no information whatsoever about a Firman being put on display. So I left a voicemail for the woman in the exhibitions office who had told me the Firman would be put on display in June. Technically it might have been a little bit of a rant, as I was not a happy bunny.

Later, I came home and read this story:
British museum staff to walk out in pay row - The Scotsman

And I understood. Neil MacGregor, the Director, has always made a huge point of being very Christian. I am certain that he would not deliberately have had people at the Museum bear false witness. Clearly Mr. MacGregor really, really wants everyone to have the opportunity to see the Firman, but because of the fencing display and the strike, they just have not been able to organise themselves.

As everyone knows, I think the British Museum is a super-duper-fabulous place - so I've been racking my brains, trying to think how I could possibly help them make the St Clair Archive available to as many people as possible. Then I had one of those Eureka moments. Today is the 4th of July, a day on which Americans generally help the British sort out their messes. So ...

I'm going to host a virtual exhibition of the Firman and highlights of the St Clair Archive right here, beginning ... as soon as the photos are uploaded.

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