A History of the World in 100 Objects: Visiting ANM Canberra

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Lewis Chessmen 1150-1145 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Lewis Chessmen 1150-1145 © The Trustees of the British Museum

There will be a lot for Australians to see if they travel to Canberra this summer, where two landmark international exhibitions will be on show in our national capital. The first is Versailles: Treasures from the Palace at NGA.

Visiting from the British Museum, to be displayed at the National Museum Australia, the exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects explores the history of humanity.

The latter is on a world tour and will open on September 9, with the too delightful Lewis Chessman the British Museum’s Goodwill Ambassadors, sure to wow the crowd.

Queen's Lyre

Queen’s Lyre, © Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum lends more objects more widely than any other museum in the world and in 2015-16 they are loaning over 2,000 objects to more than 100 institutions outside the UK dating back as far as 2,000,000 years ago.

A Queen’s Lyre from Ur, excavated by British archaeologist explorer Sir Leonard Woolley dating from the era of the first established cities 4000 – 700 BC, is made from gold, shell, wood, bitumen, lapis lazuli and red limestone.

Leonard Woolley in the 1920s and 1930’s at the site of the so-called Royal Cemetery of the city of Ur established the sophistication of the Sumer society (Southern Iraq) where writing was first invented during the 3rd Millennium BC.

Writing Tablet Beer

Early Writing tablet, Sumer © Trustees of the British Museum

An early writing tablet dating from 3100-3000 BCE will also be included. It lists beer rations due to a group of workers.

Tombs of the time revealed luxurious contents, providing valuable information about the art, religion and social mores, as well as the splendour of court life and burial.

Like many early civilisations, Sumer did not withstand invasion from neighbouring tribes and it came to an end in the reign of Ur Nammu, eventually falling into decline about 2000BCE

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Australian Aboriginal Pandanus Fibre Basket, © Trustees of the British Museum

The objects include an Australian Aboriginal basket made of pandanus fibre dating from 1911-12, whose design dates back from than 200,000 years and may have been used for carrying human remains.

Personally there are many among them that I just adore.

Gold Llama

Inca Llama model, gold, 1400 – 1550 CE, Peru, © Trustees of the British Museum

The golden Inca Llama is special, dating from a time when this unique culture were building their empire during the 15th century. So many of their treasures were lost to plunder after the Spanish arrived as they melted so many of them down, making it now very rare.

Then there is the stunning head of first century Roman Emperor Augustus, who was so good at self-promotion and engendering social harmony. It was found in Meroe, Sudan and was made 27 – 25 BC

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The Meroë Head, The Head of Augustus, plaster, glass, calcite, bronze, ©Trustees British Museum

Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (63-14BC) received the name Augustus (sacred – venerable) in recognition of his military services and position.

His rise to power was facilitated by his influence over the army; his prestige was won on the battlefield, where he consistently demonstrated his skill as a great strategist.

Made of bronze, glass and calcite, those eyes seem to follow you around the room and its lively countenance speaks volumes about this special man who challenged anyone who entered his arena.

At the time of Caesar’s assassination although only a student at Apollonia, he confidently returned to claim his inheritance. This reveals Augustus as a young man in his prime at a time when Rome’s authority depended on the strength of its legions, which he so ably led.

Augustus defeated Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium, after which he was able to establish a peace that would be maintained by his successors, thereby making a political unity of what was practically the whole of the known world

The pair of Kakiemon porcelain elephants dating 1650-1700 from Arita in the Saga prefecture in Japan, are sure to captivate. Their story crosses continents, after the first live elephant was presented to the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimochi as a gift in 1408.

Kakiemon elephants

Pair of model elephants. Made of porcelain decorated in overglaze enamels in yellow, red, green and blue in Kakiemon style. ©Trustees British Museum

Perhaps the makers may not have seen one in the flesh, but the drawings and descriptions by the time they were rendering the delightful examples, had certainly seen drawings and read descriptions about this most fascinating of animals.

Made in the kilns where potters only began producing porcelain in Japan in 1610, its bright red, yellow, blue and green overglaze enamels, introduced to Japan in the 1640s most likely from China, give our elephants a lively appearance.

Cameo 1The Cameo showing the ancient Greek goddess Omphale surrounded by diamonds and rubies was formerly in the Piccolomini Cabinet at Rome. She has a lion’s skin on her head, symbolising her authority.

She was the Queen of Lydia and was said to have purchased Herakles for a price of three silver talents and in her possession, he was involved in a number of his adventures, including killing a monstrous snake destroying men and crops in Lydia.

The cameo was first given by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (reign 1519-1556) to Pope Clement VII (1478-1534), who presented it to the Piccolomini family where on the obverse side; the bust of Hercules is facing forward, with a lion’s skin tied around his neck.

Iznik Dish, 1570 - 1580 CE, © Trustees of the British Museum

Iznik Dish, 1570 – 1580 CE, © Trustees of the British Museum

Potters in the Turkish town of Iznik, south of Istanbul influenced by the blue and white porcelains of the Chinese court, produced a wonderful range of glazed ceramic wares popular at the court of the Ottoman sultans.

The ware itself was a soft paste type of ceramic body and while its glassy constituency gave the fired clay the required translucency, it didn’t ever achieve the hard body characteristics of true Chinese porcelain.

Statue-of-Mithras-1060A lover of sculpture, the Statue of Mithras made of marble for me definitely appeals. The Persian religious beliefs surrounding the cult of the god Mithras; about which little is known, influences its sophisticated style.

A History of the World in 100 Objects Exhibition has been brought to fruition based on an acclaimed BBC radio series by former British Museum director Neil MacGregor.

It acknowledges how our perceptions are shaped by a powerful legacy of visual imagery representing our shared humanity, from two million years ago to the present.

The National Museum of Australia will add one more object (101) to the exhibition to mark a point on our journey through history.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum
9 September, 2016 – 29th January, 2017
National Museum Australia

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