Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Byzantium 330-1453, The Royal Academy

Yesterday, my parents and I went to the special exhibit at the Royal Academy on Byzantine art and culture.  It was fantastic (and huge).  Highlights included:
  • Micro-mosaics.  An incredible technique that is eye-watering to imagine executing.  Take your hand-held magnifying glass, and imagine doing this by candlelight in 560 AD.  Makes images of the baby Jesus more interesting.
  • Reliquaries.  Everyone loves an object made exclusively to hold the fingernail of a no-name saint.  There were lots of these.
  • Goblet that was purported to be the true Holy Grail.  Clearly, this is empirically testable.
  • Many carved ivory icons, which were another awe-inspiring technical achievement.  They actually carved very small text in relief and sculpted architectural colonnades on a tiny piece of ivory (less than 10 inches tall).  Thinking about the various ways ivory has been used to make objects of art, from the 30,000 year old Palaeolithic sculptures to Byzantine icons and beyond, is staggering.
  • The entry-way is filled with a huge iron chandelier.  This was one of the most impressive objects I've ever seen in a museum, anywhere.
The exhibit is definitely worth going to if you are in London.  The entire exhibition was very evocative of the sacred and truly monumental Byzantine culture.  As a kid in school, we didn't spend much time explicitly talking about the Byzantine Empire, and this exhibit included lots of nice, informative tidbits about how expansive and persistent this culture really was.   Entry is £12 for adults, £10 students/concessions. It's there until 22 March 2009!

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