With the Assyrians at The British Museum

IMG_3613One of the aspects of drawing in museums that I have discovered I enjoy the most, is the enforced opportunity to spend an extended period of time looking at one thing, or at most a small collection of things.

For each class, our teacher selects a limited range of pictures or artefacts for us to choose between, and then we have an hour or so to sit, on a little folding stool, in front of whichever one we pick.  They are frequently in parts of the galleries and museums that I may never have previously visited, or if I have, I’ve been like all the other visitors, walking past quickly, already gorged or desensitised by the visual overload offered by the institutions.

Last night, we were in the Assyrian galleries at the British Museum.  In contrast with other Galleries open late on a Friday evening, the British Museum is less busy than during the daytime, when it can be near impossible to walk around the more popular rooms unimpeded by large groups of tourists.  I had one room all to myself for the first hour; apart from the occasional visitor strolling past, and the blasts of comically prosaic communication about tea breaks from the attendant’s walkie talkie, I was able to sit and examine the patterns on the relief wall panels, and wonder at the hands that made them, as I failed to capture their essence in my sketchbook.  For all my many visit to the British Museum, I’ve never sat in such quiet contemplation there.

For the second part of the evening, all the members of the class sat together, gazing up at the monumental sculptures of , trying to capture the strangeness of the beasts; the crinkled hair, the bobbly beards and sharp human features.  There’s such drama in studying the details of the sculptures.

I admit it – I’m often one of those who just walks by, catching a glimpse of things out of the corner of my eye, and moving on to the next thing, so that I may never remember what I’ve actually seen.  But there are days where there is nothing better, calmer and more focussed than just looking at one or two things closely, and then going home.

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  1. Catherine

     /  February 26, 2014

    I love your calm-faced king, who seems to have made the same impression on you as on my favourite writer, Russell Hoban, in ‘The lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz’:
    “Carved in the brownish stone was a lion with two arrows in his spine, leaping up at the king’s chariot from behind, biting the tall chariot wheel, dying on the spears of the king and the king’s spearmen. The horses galloped on, the beard of the calm-faced king was carefully curled, the king looked straight out over the back of the chariot, over the lion biting on the wheel and dying on his spear…The last lion alive was the one the others would have made their king if they had been allowed to. He was large, strong, and fierce, and with two arrows deep in his spine he was still alive. The arrows burned like fire in him, his sight was fading, the blood was roaring in his ears with the rumble of the chariot wheels. Before him and above him, racing away, the glittering king was calm in his chariot, his spear poised, his spearmen beside him. The dying lion-king leaped, clung to the tall and turning wheel that brought him up to the spears. Growling and frowning he bit the wheel that lifted him, and bore him on into darkness.”

    • Thank you. That’s a fantastic description of the lion hunt panels in the British Museum. I can recommend it as a good place to spend a contemplative Friday evening. And once again I have to promise to give Russell Hoban a try!


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