Yesterday, Matt and I managed to get a simultaneous day of annual leave – or most of a day at least. I still had to be in Goodge Street for a meeting at 4:30, followed by a networking event which stretched until 11pm.
But anyway, during the day, we took advantage of the Monday holiday and headed into central London and the National Portrait Gallery. What differentiates the Portrait Gallery from a standard art gallery is its strong links with history. Along the walls, and throughout the rooms, you basically find a “who’s who” of public life in Britain over the past 400 or so years.
Given our current obsession with the Tudors, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we spent most of our time in the first eight rooms. In these rooms, you can find paintings of all the usual cast: Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer, Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth, Lady Jane Grey and Catherine of Aragon. And perhaps not surprisingly, none of them look quite as good in paint as they do in our favourite television series.
Also on the second floor, we found some amazing paintings of parliament in session, where almost all the members have been identified. There were also some well known portraits scientists, artists and writers, including one of Shakespeare (the first painting that the gallery obtained) and another of Jane Austen.
And in about three hours, that’s as far as we got. We rushed through the Stuarts and the Civil War, and didn’t make it to the Victorians or anything later than that. It was more than enough to just wander from one wall to another, and listen to the stories on our audio guides (£2 to hire from the front desk, entry into the permanent collection was free). It was enough to just look at those Tudors and imagine them sitting for those portraits, and marvel once again, at the nearness of history in this country.
I don’t know where to start writing about Italy. I’ll probably end up doing a few entries over the next couple of weeks; I probably won’t do them in any sort of order. It was my second trip to the country. I was spending pounds and not New Zealand dollars, which was why on one morning in Rome, I ended up at the Ara Pacis Augustae.
This time round, €10 didn’t seem too much to pay for an audio-guide and entry to the glass museum near the banks of the Tiber River (€10? That’s only three and a half single scoop gelati for example). It didn’t seem too much to get away from the crowds and the heat of the morning, into the quiet and cool of inner sanctuary. To be able to take photos of the reliefs on the outside of the altar, to walk into it, to touch the stones which were first carved in memory of Augustus’ achievements in the years BC.
On the short sides of the altar, there are reliefs showing a procession of priests and members of Augustus’ family. I stood for a while, even after the audio-guide had stopped explaining who they were – and thought about how their likenesses had stayed in stone for so many years.
I studied the Ara Pacis at high school. I studied Latin. I studied classics. The Ara Pacis was there in my text books, maybe even my exams. But it wasn’t real until almost 10 years later, when I stood there and touched the stones.
This morning, my parents are on a flight back to New Zealand, and I wish I could be everywhere in the world all at once.
Tash (naTacitus)No comments