March 6th, 2009


Byzantium to Bablyon

I took the day off yesterday and went to two exhibitions in London.

The Byzantium exhibition was at the Royal Academy. The items on display were spread over a span of a thousand years, which is a long time for any empire. What has survived are mostly the precious objects, since the items weren't from archaeological sites as the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and there was a continuity of occupation. There was also an intermingling of the cultures before 1453 and one of the interesting things was picking out styles from Roman, Greek and Islamic influences. I also had a bit of deja vu since I saw a piece from the Hermitage Museum (a silver plate with shepherd) that I'd seen before at Somerset House! The idea behind icons was explained in that they acted as intercessors behind the worshipper and icons, so the church and priests were not necessarily required. I did wonder if this was part of the drive behind the iconoclasts who outlawed the production and worship on icons. (It reminded me of the fiction books The Sarantine Mosaic a series by Guy Gavriel Kay, who's a writer who creates a legend based on a historical period, and in this series is centred round the iconoclasm and political intrique of his equivalent to Byzantium.)

Then onto Babylon at the British Museum. This actually started off with the most impressive part of the exhibit, 3 of the enamelled lions that lined the Processional Way. The colours and craftsmanship are still stunning, and I now want to go the Pergamon Museum in Berlin which has a reconstruction of the Way and the blue-tiled Ishtar Gate at the end! The rest was on a smaller scale, and mixed the archaeology with art that depicted ideas of Babylon over the centuries. An intriguing little fact was that they had a mathematical system based on 60, which persists in our measurements of time.

It was a fascinating day, but it's surprisingly tiring shuffling around and concentrating on things. I didn't get home until around ten and then went to bed!