Friday, 5 January 2018

Cusop History Society goes to Oxford

What a brilliant day out! And many thanks to Sue for organising it, Nick for letting us all park in his drive, Celia for driving, and Denise for giving two brilliant presentations despite a terrible cold with croaky voice. I'd seen Denise to say hello to before, but I never realised what a depth of knowledge she has - nor known about her work at the Ashmolean Museum.
We set off in the dark, in separate cars, to arrive at Nick's house in Oxford just after 10am - he'd kindly offered his drive for everyone to park in.
From there we all walked down together to the Ashmolean Museum, past Lawrence of Arabia's house, which led to a lively discussion about camels and Brough Superior motorbikes (the type he was riding when he crashed and died).
Nearer the museum we passed the Eagle and Child pub - I wasn't sure, so looked it up later; this is the pub where Tolkein, CS Lewis and the Inklings used to drink! I knew the pub sign was the crest of a noble family - and found later that it was the Earls of Derby, one of whom, during the Civil War, had strong associations with Oxford.
And then we were at the Museum:

There we are, going in.

We had the use of a room on floor -1, passing a couple of gorgeous Greek statues on the way - one of Apollo pointing off to one side, and an Archaic Greek one of a young man, posed with one foot forward in imitation of Egyptian statues.
After leaving our coats we were led up to an upstairs room, where a selection of paintings and artefacts had been laid out to show us.
It was like the Radio 4 programme about the 100 objects from the British museum. For instance, at first glance the first object was a blue and white bowl, but Denise could tell us so much about the way the decoration told us about the fusion of Iranian and Chinese cultural ideas. This in turn demonstrated the trade routes between the two countries, and the way that the Iranians had started making blue and white pottery, been copied by the Chinese, who were able to make porcelain, and then that was copied by the Iranians, who developed their own type of pottery, fritware.
There was a tile showing two jolly chaps drinking together, intended to be a wall tile and which, linked with poetry of the period, indicated the acceptance of homosexual love in late 13th century Iran (and the figures were probably Mongols).
There was more evidence of cross-cultural connections in a page of a Koran in three languages, and a picture of a Dervish kneeling on his coat - and we were able to get right up to the objects, with magnifying glasses, to examine them.
Someone asked about the prohibition in Islam of drawing living things, so Denise explained that this was a misunderstanding - there is a tradition of figure painting running throughout Islamic art, as it is not prohibited by the Koran. However in the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet show that Mohammed didn't like figurative art, as only Allah could create life. On questions like this, the Koran takes precedence over the Hadith every time, though there were periods of iconoclasm in Islamic history.
I think my favourite picture that we were shown was the one of the Dervish leaving a palace on his white mule, in a picture crammed with detail - two scholars reading on the roof, a man picking sticks up, three women spinning at the bottom of the picture. These pictures were painted by teams of artists, with many layers of paint giving a jewel-like effect on specially burnished paper.
Then, like the court painters, we moved on to India, and saw the way the styles changed.
And finally we got to European influence on the art, finishing with a life size picture of a crane, commissioned by Lady Mary Impey to send back to England to show the different animals, birds and plants of India (and painted on English paper).
It was all absolutely fascinating, and I got the impression that Denise could have talked for the whole session on each one of the objects and their significance.

No comments: