The Things People Find, Museum store rooms edition

The British Museum stored a lump of “organic material” for 125 years and no one had ever looked at it properly? That’s how this story sounds.

A Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum’s storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a “staggering find”. No-one knew of its existence until now.

It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891.

Curator Barry Ager, a Vikings specialist, was poring over artefacts before a visit from a Norwegian researching the Viking site when his eye was caught by some metal sticking out of the side of the organic lump.

Intrigued, he asked the conservation department to X-ray it. “At that stage, I really didn’t know what was inside,” he said. “It was a staggering find.”

Teaching Hagia Sophia today!

Hagia Sophia - me by Michael Tinkler
Hagia Sophia – me, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

Yay!
That’s your loyal, if lately somewhat irregular, author leaning against a column at the Great Church in 2009.
This really is one of the highlights of any semester for me – the building is such a perfect contrast to the Pantheon, which we studied just a few weeks ago. They exemplify very different approaches to architecture – both their structural systems and their handling of space. We really don’t know what the Pantheon was for, but Hagia Sophia is a really interesting synthesis of basilica and rotunda. I think the Great Church may have been the perfect vessel for the imperial liturgy – goodness knows it worked for 900 years. I can even understand it working as a preaching space, something I’m never so convinced about for basilicas of a similar scale before artificial amplification.

Real Alcazar, Sevilla – Mudejar work

Real Alcazar, Sevilla by Michael Tinkler
Real Alcazar, Sevilla, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

I was especially taken with the realization than in the midst of these abstract shapes of mudejar quadrilobes were lions and castles – and that shield. Leon, Castile – and what? But still, Peter the Cruel (r 1334-1369) wanted ALL his subjects to understand his palace facade.

Cathedral, former Great Mosque, Cordoba

Yesterday I took a day trip – about 40 minutes each way – to Cordoba.
Cordoba was the capital of Roman Spain, and one of the bigger cities in the western empire. There’s not a lot left of it to see, but the archeological museum was full of good stuff.
More important for looking was the Cathedral, formerly the Great Mosque. I have been teaching this in Art 101 every year since I started, and now I have it much better integrated! in my mind!
Not that I’ve been saying anything WRONG – but I have never been as clear about the disposition of parts as I would like. And I see why! I’ll try to find a plan to upload – but the essential story is that the mosque was built in stages over several hundred years and then the Christian cathedral was inserted more or less in the center of the building.
There have been so many restoratoin campaigns the photos have always been hard to sort out – so seeing it was really satisfying. I spent a long time wandering around, then made a disciplined front to back visit, then wandered some more.
The folks who run it provide explanatory brochures in the usual langauges – Spanish, French, English, German, Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese. But they also provide Arabic – and there were a number of obviously Muslim (though not clearly Arab) visitors yesterday. I’d love to see the text compared to the English.
In the English brochure, they make the point fairly firmly, though not in an ugly way, that Yes, the Castilians turned this mosque into a church, but the Umayyads had destroyed a previously existing church on the side (though it was not the cathedral of the city) and systematically reused columns from previous buildings to signify their conquest.
I’ve read about Andalucian nostalgia among Arabs, especially in North Africa. Really now – with the exception of the Kingdom of Granada, most of Spain was under Muslim control for a shorter time than it has been in Christian hands since – and it was Christian before. Look on the map to see how far south Cordoba is – and be reminded that the Castilians conquered it in 1236.

Me at the Real Alcazar

Me at the Real Alcazar by Michael Tinkler
Me at the Real Alcazar, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

The Alcazar Palace is really something – I think it would be very comfortable in the summer time, for Seville!
I remember the tilework from an old PBS show, “Connections.” I can’t think of the presenter’s name, but it was a history of science across time kind of thing – made an impression on me!

Luckily, Sevilla is pretty flat

photo by Michael Tinkler
photo, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

Luckily, Sevilla is pretty flat. I’m tiring here in the home stretch (starting to figure out my move to Madrid and thence home). I spent some time today in the Museo de Bellas Artes sitting in front of Murillos and Zubarans (Murillo’s not as bad as I thought he was and Zubuaran is better even than I thought before seeing so many paintings live). I wasn’t just contemplating art – I was resting.

The picture here is a view of the cathedral room from the top of the Giralda tower (see previous post), the churches bell tower and originally the minaret for the mosque the cathedral replaced. Interesting – the great mosque was only about 50 years old before Fernando III conquered the city in 1248.

The right side of the photo shows an interesting phenomenon – the vaults of the gothic cathedral are exposed. That is, no one ever put a giant wooden superstructure and roof with its associated lead sheating over the vaults – so the walls and buttresses can be a lot thinner. .You canget away with that in Sevilla because it doesn’t rain much or snow at all – northern Europe can’t do this with a vaulted roof. They need the waterproofing and the protection from the weight.

How Parasites Went on Crusade

When the crusaders of the Order of St John first built a 35-latrine toilet complex in the medieval city of Acre in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, they could scarcely have considered that researchers would be sifting through its contents 900 years later. Yet the 13th-century latrine soil is providing another chapter in understanding the long history of our relationship with intestinal parasites.

Interesting archaeology – from Medievalists.net.

British Library Medieval Manuscripts go Public Domain!!

I have been very out of the medieval blog loop – the end of last semester was pretty busy – but how did I miss THIS announcement in late November?

The British Library is treating its medieval manuscript collection as though it is public domain!

 

The catalogue is designed to increase public access to the British Library’s rich collections, and we want to encourage even greater use and enjoyment of these collections.  Technically these works are still in copyright in the UK until 2040, but given that they are anonymous and many centuries old, the Library has decided to provide the images on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts under a Public Domain Mark and treat them as public domain works, as would be the case in many other countries.  For more information, please see the library’s use and reuse policy for CIM.  We ask that you maintain the library’s Public Domain tag, and provide a link or other credit back to the image’s source on the British Library’s site – help us share these riches even more widely with the world. (my emphasis)

Wow – is that ever sensible!