Wednesday, 26 September 2012

British Museum part 1: Horses

I love the British Museum. I love walking towards it, I love the airy courtyard, I love the objects and the way there always seems to be a corner I haven't discovered yet. I went to look at two exhibitions there.

The Horse exhibition is free but nearly over. It starts with some really lovely Mesopotamian objects, some showing mules, like the Royal Standard of Ur. There are also finely-carved Mesopotamian reliefs showing the horses of the king's lion-hunting chariots. (The Assyrian lion hunts, like this one, are one of my favourite bits of the BM, just off the busy Egyptian statuary galleries.) The next room deals with early Arabic horses and horses in Islam. It has some truly beautiful miniatures, some of the best things in the exhibition. There's also a Rembrandt copy of a Mughal miniature now in the Bodleian.

It was at around this point that I started thinking the selection of objects perhaps a little odd. The next room is about the Arabian horse, and the final rooms about how the Thoroughbreds of modern racing all trace their ancestry to the three foundation stallions brought to England from the Middle East. There's not a mention of other breeds, like the native British horses, of the many other types of horse used for work and competition. The exhibition is supposed to have been put on as a tribute to the Queen's Jubilee year, but the Queen's involvement in equestrianism does go a lot further than just racing. One of the things I do like about the royal family is that they are very good with horses. It's true that they are privileged to have the opportunity since horses are expensive animals -- though I think in Devon it would be cheaper for me to keep a horse than a car -- but these are still really tough things to do, and a horse doesn't know you're royal. Eventing, for example, is frankly terrifying, and the Duke of Edinburgh was still competitively driving Fell ponies in his 80s. (I assume he's stopped now.)

Anyway, the exhibition is sponsored by Saudi Arabian institutions and is in conjunction with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities. This explains why there are quite so many Korans in it, I suppose -- it's essentially a Saudi oil prince's idea of the horse. And if I had paid more attention I would have noticed that it's entitled "The Horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot". It's a pretty fair description without the colon. It's free so worth popping into for the Mughal miniatures, but otherwise it was very disappointing, essentially highlighting one particular horse cliche, the sport of princes thing -- the same exhibition could have been laid on in the eighteenth century more or less.

No comments:

Post a Comment