July 8th, 2006


Somerset House

This week I went with a friend to see a couple of exhibitions at Somerset House. One was something I'd been wanting to visit and the other we decided to see after spotting the posters.

The first - which was the one I had planned for - was in the Hermitage Rooms, and was The Road to Byzantium. Byzantium always makes me think of mosaics and icons, but the interest in this exhibition was that it presented pieces that were more in line with classic Greek and Roman art. These pieces were still being made up to the 7th century, and continued to use 'pagan' imagery while Christianity was being adopted. The first section of the exhibition had original Classical art, so it was easy to see the similarity of the later pieces. This Dish with herdsman and goats, from the middle of the 6th century AD, has no overt pagan symbols, but would not have looked out of place in a Greek or Roman house. It was also one of my favourite pieces for the wonderful life-like, although still stylised, portraits of the herdsman and animals.

Something that is just mentioned in passing on the exhibition site, but which I found particularly fascinating, was a collection of Coptic (Egyptian) textiles from the 4th century AD and later. I believe these were mostly associated with burials, and because these were in dry surroundings the textiles have survived in marvelous condition. Here is an example of a woven medallion which could easily be just 100 years old. There was one piece of material which was very light blue with a white deer pattern, the pattern was only on the surface of the material which suggests they were using something like a batik technique.

The other exhibition was Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1987 which as it indicates, chronicles 150 years of jewellery design. Needless to say there were some gorgeous designs here, and I particularly liked the pieces which used nature as inspiration. Also of note because of its sheer size was The Tiffany Diamond (there was quite a lot of security at the exhibition!) Although the display cases were the main attraction there were also panels on the walls describing the history, and it was interesting to see that they didn't just cater for the rich but produced ranges of affordable jewellery for the rest of us!

(Also, should just mention we had a light lunch at the River Terrace, and I can recommend the Baked Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake, which is rich without being too rich!)