Prelims and finals loom ever closer. It’s time for a revision break that doesn’t involve Facebook or gin, so go and inhale some culture at the Ashmolean instead. It’s healthy, free and, as these editors found out, fascinating. It’s a big museum which can be daunting, but here’s our collection of top hits.
Our advice for handling the Ashmolean is to forcefully ignore all their orientation galleries. Turn immediately left and walk through the room of marble sculptures, pausing only to admire a few beautifully sculpted buttocks. Head straight to the Egyptian section, stuffed with hieroglyphic paraphernalia. The shrine of King Taharqa dominates Room 23, and just beyond lies the section on burial. The Ashmolean’s collection of mummies is impressive, especially the case containing Djeddjehutyiuefankh’s three coffins. Just outside the Egyptian galleries you can find a mummy of a little boy. Beside it is a 3D artwork based on the CT scans and painted on 122 sheets of glass by Angela Palmer.
The rest of the ground floor is dedicated to the art of other ancient worlds. Expect coins, statues, ivory combs, and the odd piece of jewellery. Room 15 has beautiful Etruscan bronzes, but if pottery is your thing, then this is the floor for you. The offerings from Crete are by far the most impressive — check out the six tentacled Octopus pot (Knossus, 15th century BC), and the collection of narrow Greek pots called lekythoi at the bottom of the back stairs.
Whip swiftly round the first floor – ‘Asian Crossroads’. Look out for small statues of multi-limbed deities in the Indian section, and intricate Islamic inlayed boxes. Ignore the ‘Mediterranean Crossroads’ room if you’re bored of coins and jewellery. Go straight to Room 29 – ‘Eastern Art Paintings’. It displays beautiful Japanese manj netsuke – small engraved ivory ‘toggles’ alongside Japanese woodblocks.
The Eastern rooms spill onto the second floor, entitled ‘West meets East’. This is where the real fun begins. Highlights include Samurai armour; an authentic ‘one and a half mat’ tea-house; an enormous, intricate tapestry ‘The Battle of Animals’; and a spectacular 17th century lacquered Chinese screen. Chinese painting seems to be spread all over the Ashmolean at the moment. The ancient paintings are found on the ground floor, and on the 2nd floor the exhibition takes China from 800AD to the present. There are some beautiful modern examples hidden away in room 38, but don’t miss the special exhibition of Xu Bing which ends on the 19th May.
The impressive Eastern section makes looking round Room 41 – ‘England 400-1600’ – rather embarrassing. If you’re studying the Anglo-Saxons it might be useful, if not, admire a brooch or two then leave. Do not even think about stopping in the European ceramics room. Walk straight through to the musical instrument display, and spend some time wishing you could make violins like Stradivarius.
The other half of the second floor is a sub-standard National Gallery. The rooms represent most of European art, badly. The Italian Renaissance room features Bronzino’s ‘Portrait of Giovani de Medici’. It depicts one of the wealthy Medici family’s sons but is worth seeing for the frame alone. There is also a lovely rare Titian, ‘The Triumph of Love’, showing Cupid standing triumphantly on the back of a subdued lion. Avoid the overcrowded still-life room like the plague; but do try and find the tiny hidden corner of Russian Art. Unless you are from Corpus and want to see your college silver, or have a keen interest in pocket watches, you can ignore Room 55.
The same goes for most of floor three, especially the revolting collection of wine glasses. The pre-Raphaelite gallery is, predictably, not worth the walk. The Pissarro pickings are thin on the ground, and if at all pressed for time, go straight to see the Sickert. Down a short flight of stairs is an odd room of unimpressive paintings by big names (Picasso, Kandinsky, Hepworth). Take it or leave it.
If you’ve managed to squeeze this all into an hour, congratulations. You are now an art aficionado. Go to the restaurant on the top floor, and reward yourself with an expensive goat’s cheese salad.