28 December 2012

Almost family

We’re in Sydney for a few days and near Hyde Park and the Australian Museum and its Alexander the Great blockbuster exhibition. Nothing planned, but it was fortuitous. We love our antiquities and go some distance to see them, and these were from the Hermitage in St Petersburg. We’d never been there, so this is a double dip. But then, a touring exhibition is never like being there. We liked the outing and learned something of this famed, young general taught by no less than Aristotle, and his brilliant (although standard) tactics, and the breadth of his journeys and conquests. We enjoyed a range of artistic and archaeological exhibits that covered the last 3 millennia and more (the earliest item I noticed was a papyrus dated 3,000BCE). What interested me most was the range of exhibits: jewellery and weaponry and sculptures from Alexander’s time and then a range of exhibits in memory of this most famed of historical personages, like paintings from the renaissance, incunabula and manuscripts, some delicious works from the courts of Catherine the Great and Louis XIV. I drooled over the gold. I am always amazed by how modern jewellery is so frequently influenced by ancient jewellery and I love the details of leaves or flowers or ships or whatever is portrayed. I particularly love the vibrant colour of gold that remains so undiminished over the centuries. But I will remember the exhibition for its cameos. I like cameos although they are hardly a very fashionable thing. I associate them with the ‘60s and Italian realism, but maybe that’s just a family thing. I’ve seen them in museums in Italy and on sale at Pompei. My favourite work on display was a massive cameo of exquisite detail with a pedigree that included Queen Christina of Sweden, the Vatican, Napoleon’s Josephine and Alexander I of Russia: the Gonzaga portrait of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Arsinoe II. And, as for family connection, we saw a range of cameos copied at the request of Catherine the Great from originals by James Tassie, who happens to be the brother of one of Megan’s ancestors. We joked that we should claim free entry given the family connection and that virtually everyone could claim free entrance to a blockbuster for Genghis Khan. Taking in a blockbuster is not like a visit to a great collection but it’s still an education and a pleasure. I’ll claim this one as a family event although Alexander himself is not quite on the family tree. (Pics not allowed, so see the link below).

  • Pictures from an exhibition
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