Vikings: Life and Legend (2014)

Vikings: Life and Legend

(British Museum, London, until 22 June 2014)

Bearing in mind I went to see the British Museum’s Vikings exhibition on the day after it opened, almost a month ago, you might think it strange that I haven’t got round to writing about it yet. The simple truth is that it’s been hard to weigh up my thoughts about it. And I’m not the only one who has mixed feelings. The lovely Elisa, a fellow Dunnetteer, came along with me and I think was similarly nonplussed; and I’ve spoken to several other people who’ve shared our feelings. In my particular case, I think I’d probably gone into the show with unrealistically high expectations.

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Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum (2013)

Roman fresco of a couple: Terentius Neo and his wife

(British Museum, London, until 29 September 2013)

If last year’s blockbuster exhibition was Leonardo at the National Gallery, this year’s is Pompeii at the British Museum. Both names have the kind of pulling-power that make it virtually impossible to get tickets, although I’m happy to say that there is still availability for some of the less appealing slots (we visited at 9am on a Sunday morning). Besides, 300 tickets are released by the British Museum every day, so you can always queue before opening time in the hope of getting one. Do try to see it. You won’t be disappointed.

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Shakespeare: Staging the World (2012)

William Shakespeare

(British Museum, until 25 November)

Even though I’m a bit of a Bardophile, I make the mistake of looking at Shakespeare’s plays as texts, rather than as expressions of a living, vivid, turbulent world. When I watch Romeo and Juliet, or As You Like It, or The Merchant of Venice, I focus on the world that Shakespeare is creating, rather than the world that created him. And that’s where this exhibition provides a really interesting counter-balance.

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Treasures of Heaven (2011)

Limoges Reliquary of St Valerie

Saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe

(British Museum, London (23 June – 9 October 2011)

I have a feeling that, while this exhibition was being prepared, I read an article about concerns expressed by some of the lenders – monasteries, abbeys, great Catholic churches – about whether their precious relics would be treated with the respect they deserved in Protestant England.  If I am right, then it shows that awareness of the Reformation remains strong even today.  However, they needn’t have worried.  The exhibition setting is a triumph of simplicity and the objects are left to work their extraordinary power.

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