This post is a study in contrasts. I visited the British Museum to see the new blockbuster show about the Vikings, and took the opportunity to see a new folding screen in the Japanese collection as well. A bit of an odd combination, I know, but that’s the charm of London museums and galleries; you can see what you want, when you want, without anyone telling you they don’t go together. I enjoyed my ill-assorted mix – let’s see if you do too.
I was quite excited to visit the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery in the new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, which houses the BM’s latest blockbuster show, Vikings. The extension has been built alongside the old museum building, is designed by Richard Rogers, and is a revised version after Camden Council turned down his first design.
At first I was a bit disappointed with the new space. It seemed a bit cramped, taking you on one of those winding journeys so beloved of museum displays. But there were some astounding objects on display. like this silver mount for a drinking horn from Denmark, 900-1000 AD.
Or this Frankish cup from Denmark, 700-800 AD.
But then I turned the corner to be confronted by a coup de théatre – a huge space filled with the bones of a viking ship, the Roskilde 6, the longest Viking ship ever to be discovered.
Actually, the huge display is a steel reproduction protecting the remains of the original oak ship of which only 20% remains.
Around the ship were more examples of Viking art. Here’s a helmet from the Ukraine 900-1000 AD.
A gold arm ring from Denmark 800-1050 AD.
A memorial stone from Sweden.
Then I took the clanking lift up to the fifth floor, where Yannick had told me there was a new cherry blossom screen on show. In fact there’s a pair of them; two-panel folding screens in ink and colour on paper, depicting two different spring nights. One shows a weeping cherry tree overhanging the reflection of a full moon as two wild geese fly overhead and a little bird sits huddled in the branches.
The other depicts a new moon in the mist framed by wild cherry trees as a crow flies past.
Actually, I think I preferred the screen to the Viking ship, but that’s no surprise. No doubt thousands of people will visit the Vikings exhibition over the coming months. I hope some of them take a look at the other treasures the museum has on show.
The Vikings Exhibition is on from 6 March to 22 June. Adult tickets cost £16.50. The Japan collection in room 92 is part of the permanent collection (though particular items change from time to time) and you can visit it for free.