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How to See the British Museum in Four Visits online

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impress the modern spectator with their almost superhuman beauty,
Phidias was the creator. The sculptures known to the public as the
Townley collection, are sculptures generally of a more modern date
than those in the Elgin and Phigaleian Saloons. The collection has
undoubtedly many specimens of the rudest eras of Greek art: but its
most striking groups, to the general visitor, will be undoubtedly
those finished statues and compositions which represent the ages when
Greece was a great European power, and that subsequent period when the
Greek sculptors plied their chisels under the patronage of Roman
conquerors. In this room the visitor will once more remark, how large
a proportion of these priceless relics have been gleaned from ancient
sepulchres. Even as he enters the room, he may perceive on the right,
the front of a tomb from Athens, carved in high relief; and on the
left, the front of another tomb, also sculptured, from Delos.

The room is divided into compartments which the visitor should examine
in their regular order of rotation. He will begin therefore, of course
with the

FIRST DIVISION.

Before the first pilaster let the visitor notice at once a small
seated statue of Cybele or Fortune, from Athens, presented to the
nation by J.S. Gaskoin, Esq. Other remarkable objects to be examined
before the visitor fixes his attention upon the contents of the case
deposited here, are a bust of Demosthenes; a sepulchral altar or
cippus, ornamented with sphinxes, etc.; and a sepulchral stêle,
inscribed with the name of the son of Artemidorus, who is reclining
upon a couch, and crowning himself. Over the case are deposited the
end of a sarcophagus ornamented with a Bacchus reclining on a satyr; a
bust of Julius Cæsar; a sepulchral cippus; and a Greek stêle. On the
case are a head found near Rome, probably of Mercury: and the bust of
a Muse crowned with a laurel wreath.

Having examined these objects, the visitor should occupy himself with
the contents of the case. Here are some beautiful specimens of Greek
art - some mere fragments, others in a wonderful state of preservation.
Here are one of those funeral masks anciently used to cover the face
of a corpse; the votive mask of a bearded satyr; a votive patera with
bas-reliefs representing Silenus and a satyr, another with the head of
a bearded Bacchus, and a panther; various heads of Hercules; a Venus
attended by two Cupids; a bust of Vitellius; a head of Vulcan; a bust
of Caracalla; a head of Juno; a head of the daughter of Titus, Julia;
a mutilated figure, about the neck of which a scarabaeus is suspended;
the torso of a satyr; a variety of fragments, here an arm holding a
butterfly - there two lions' paws - there a gladiator's foot - there the
fragment of a serpent. Having noticed these scraps of ancient art, the
visitor may direct his attention to the lower shelf, where he will
observe some beautiful busts. These include one supposed to be of
Sappho; a Minerva with a Corinthian helmet found at Rome; Bacchus;
Apollo; a Parian marble bust of Diana from Rome; a queenly Juno
wearing the splendone; terminal busts, joined back to back, of
Hercules and Omphale. The upper shelf now remains for inspection. Here
are three sepulchral tablets, and the fronts of two sarcophagi. The
tablet from Crete, within a wreath, contains an inscription
descriptive of honour conferred by the inhabitants of Crete upon an
individual named Alexander, the gift to him being a golden crown.
Having noticed the gay Cupids enacting Bacchanalians upon the first
front of a sarcophagus, the visitor should pass on at once to the

SECOND DIVISION.

Here, in front of the pilaster, the visitor should remark a curious
square altar, with Silvanus, to whom the altar is dedicated by the
farm servant of Caius Coelius Heliodorus, Callistus; and a trophy
discovered on the plains of Marathon.

Grouped in this division, are some fine works. First let the visitor
remark two white marble Victories discovered in the ruins of the villa
of Antoninus Pius, at Monte Cagnuolo. The first Victory is kneeling
upon a bull which she is about to sacrifice; and the second also is
kneeling upon, and about to stab, a bull. Then a fine bust of a
laughing satyr will arrest the attention of the visitor; then a
colossal foot in a sandal, under the front of a sarcophagus; then the
votive torso, supposed to be that of an Athelete; then a red marble
swan found in a vineyard near the Villa Pinciana; then a terminal
statue of a satyr; then a bust of Diogenes; then a bust, conjectured
to be part of the figure of a dying Amazon; then a bust of Atys.
Turning to the upper shelf of this division, the visitor should notice
the front and ends of a sarcophagus deposited there. Upon these
Bacchus and Ariadne are represented in a chariot, heralded by
Bacchanals, and drawn by Centaurs; and in other parts Pan is being
castigated by a satyr, and carried off by two Cupids aided by a satyr.
Turning to the lower shelf the visitor should examine several antique
busts. First there is a bust, conjectured to be that of Achilles; then
there is an old Hercules; then a Bacchante; then a bust of Aratus; a
female head; and a tragic mask from the lid of a sarcophagus. With the
examination of this shelf the visitor closes his inspection of the
second division, and should at once advance into the

THIRD DIVISION.

First, let the visitor notice, placed in front of the third pilaster,
a celebrated copy of the statue of Praxiteles, of Cupid bending his
bow. This celebrated copy is four feet, three and a half inches, in
height. It arrived in this country originally as a present to Edmund
Burke, from Rome, by Barry, the painter. Numerous copies of this Cupid
exist, and the one before the visitor is not the best.

In this compartment or division, the visitor should also remark
several sepulchral urns with figures in relief. Amid other sepulchral
monuments are, an altar inscribed by Annia Augustalis, to the manes of
M. Clodius, his brother Felix, and to Tyrannus; and a bas-relief
discovered near the mausoleum of Augustus, representing a Muse
standing before a dramatic poet. Hereabouts also the visitor should
notice an altar, ornamented with bas-reliefs, dedicated by Aurelius
Timotheus to Diana; a small figure of Neptune from Athens; a veiled
Ceres bearing a torch, from Athens; a draped Muse in terra cotta
holding a lyre; and a cippus, with a representation of Silenus riding
a panther. On turning to the lower shelf, the visitor will at once be
struck with the sarcophagi. Here are three Etruscan sarcophagi, two of
alabaster, and one in peperino. On all three are recumbent female
figures, and in front of the first the hunt of the Calydonian boar; of
the second, Scylla; and of the third, a bas-relief representing
Achilles dragging Penthesilea from her chariot. On this shelf also
are, a bas-relief showing Luna encompassed by the signs of the Zodiac,
and a sun-dial supported by the claws and heads of lions. Turning now
to the upper shelf, the visitor should examine the bas-reliefs
deposited thereon. Upon the first, the visitor will notice a funeral
car, shaped like a temple drawn by four horses, with Jupiter and the
Dioscuri on the sides of the car; upon the second, the bas-relief
represents Ulysses and Diomedes detecting Achilles disguised as a
female among the daughters of Lycomedes; and the subject of the third
relief is a marriage in the presence of Juno Pronuba, showing the
bridegroom taking the bride's hand, and holding the marriage contract.
Having glanced at these objects, the visitor's way lies forward to the

FOURTH DIVISION.

Here, in front of the pilaster, the visitor must at once examine the
torso of a statue, supposed to be of Mercury; and a curious Greek
circular altar, ornamented with the heads and fillets of bulls and
stags, and inscribed with the names of Agathemeris and her son
Sosicles of Tlos. Having examined these two prominently placed
objects, the visitor should proceed at once to the general contents of
the division. He will be probably attracted first to two terminal
statues; or statues, of which the lower parts are not developed. They
occur frequently among the remains of Greek sculpture. These terminal
statues were held in great veneration; and they were found placed at
the corners of streets, at the doors of private dwellings, and before
temples. The custom of representing Mercury with a head upon a plain
column, appears to have been the origin of a fashion which the Greeks
subsequently extended to their representations of other deities. The
terminal figure in this division, with the winged cap, illustrates the
generality of these Hermae; it was found near Frascati, in the year
1770. The next remarkable object that will probably attract the
visitor's attention is the figure, found at Rome, of an Egyptian
tumbler, going through his performances on the back of a tame
crocodile, a barbarous species of entertainment undoubtedly, but not
more repulsive than that of the French aerönaut of last year, floating
over Paris on the back of an ostrich. Hereabouts are placed also a
small statue of the three-fold Hecate, a Diana found in the
Giustiniani Palace at Rome; a bust of Jupiter, conjectured to be a
copy from the work of the celebrated sculptor Polycletus, and a
sphinx. Here, too, are some interesting bas-reliefs. Upon one a
Bacchante (supposed to be a copy from Scopas), is represented with a
knife in her hand, and holding part of a kid; upon another (part of a
sarcophagus), Priam is represented praying to Achilles to give up
Hector's body; upon a third (a cippus) birds are drinking; and upon a
fourth (a fountain) are Pans and satyrs. Before turning to the lower
shelf, the visitor should also notice in this neighbourhood a
beautiful group of two dogs, found on the Monte Cagnuolo; a votive
foot, with a coiling serpent, and one or two sepulcral urns with
inscriptions. Upon the lower shelf are deposited an interesting series
of busts, including one of the Emperor Septimius Severus, found on the
Palatine Hill; one of Hadrian, found at Tivoli, on the site of
Hadrian's Villa; one from Athens, of the Emperor Nero; and one of
Caracalla, found in the Nunnery Gardens at the Quatro Fontane, on the
Esquiline Hill. Upon the upper shelf are two busts in relief, and the
front of a sarcophagus, with elaborate representations of the Muses.
Here is Terpsichore with the lyre of dancing, Thalia with the mask of
comedy. And now the way lies once more forward, into the

FIFTH DIVISION.

Before the fifth pilaster is a notable piece of sculpture found in the
villa of Antoninus Pius - an erect figure of the youthful Bacchus
clothed in the skin of a panther; and here also is a square altar
ornamented with sphinxes in bas-relief, Apollo, Diana, and various
religious symbols. A colossal toe attracts considerable attention in
this division. It may have been an ornament in the rooms of an
Eisenberg of the ancients, but more probably has been lost by a god.
Let the visitor pause here before the terminal bust of Aeschines the
orator, who impeached Demosthenes out of jealousy for his popularity
with the people of Athens, and sullenly retired, after losing his
cause and being mulcted of a thousand drachmas as the accuser, to
Rhodes, where he occupied himself in teaching rhetoric. Other terminal
statues occur in this division. Among these, in a glass, are small
terminal busts, joined back to back, of Bacchus and Libera; three
yellow and red marble heads of Libera; a yellow marble bearded
Bacchus; and the bust of a Greek poet discovered at Bitolia.
Hereabouts also are, a female head, the eyes of which have traces of
inlaying; a bas-relief of Antinous; a curious female head, with the
hair of a distinct block of marble, fitted upon it; the head of a
child from Rome; the head of Jupiter from the corner of a sarcophagus;
busts of Hercules and Serapis; a remarkable altar in the Egyptian
style, curiously carved with the bull Apis, and Harpocrates drawn in a
car by a hippopotamus. Turning to the upper shelf, the visitor will
notice a satyr playing on a flute; six Amazons carved upon the
fragment of a sarcophagus; and a sarcophagus found at Tusculum, with
representations of Cupids bearing away the arms of Mars. A series of
busts are deposited upon the lower shelf. These include busts of the
wife of the Emperor Domitian; bust of Olympia; bust of the wife of
Hadrian, Julia Sabina; bust of Tiberius; and a bust of Augustus.
Before leaving this room the visitor should not fail to notice a few
antiquities which should particularly interest him. These form a group
of relics found in this country. They illustrate the doings of the
Romans in this country.

ANTIQUITIES OF BRITAIN.

The first of these objects which the visitor will remark, is a curious
cylindrical sarcophagus, discovered in the neighbourhood of St.
Alban's, so lately as the year 1831. It contained some Roman vases.
Another sarcophagus found at Southfleet, in Kent, is also included in
the collection. In this sarcophagus several interesting relics were
discovered, including a vessel containing burnt bones; and purple
leather shoes embroidered with gold, and in the same neighbourhood
other relics, including an earthern vessel, also containing bones,
were found. The next object to which the visitor should direct his
attention is the old cistern of a blacksmith, which had been found at
Chesterford, in Essex, which turned out to be an ancient relic
sculptured in high relief with figures of Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and
Venus. Three or four Roman altars found in various parts of the
country, one to AEsculapius; a bas-relief of a Roman standard of the
second legion; and pigs of lead inscribed with the names of Roman
emperors. Having examined these objects, the visitor should pass at
once westward into the

PHIGALEIAN SALOON.

He may here take a seat for a few moments and read the points of
history which belong to this saloon, before he commences his
examination of it. One year, while the present century was young,
fifteen gentlemen encamped round about the ruins of a temple, known to
the neighbouring inhabitants as the "columns." These columns were
those believed to be the ruins of a temple of Apollo Epicurius, built
by the citizens of ancient Phigaleia, in Arcadia. These "columns" were
situated upon a shelf of land, high up the side of Mount Cotilium, and
surrounded by a rich and various landscape. Lying scattered about were
the shattered fragments of the sculptured frieze of the temple; and,
with infinite labour the camp of explorers succeeded in gathering
together and arranging the slabs which are now deposited in this, the
Phigaleian saloon. To the sound of Arcadian music, workmen excavated
in the neighbourhood of these ruins; and in 1814 the Prince Regent
obtained a grant of 15,000£. to purchase them for the British Museum.

The subjects represented by these sculptures are, the battle of the
Centaurs and the Lapithae, and the war between the Amazons and
Athenians - mythical struggles upon which Greek sculptors were fond of
exercising their imagination. THE BATTLE OF THE CENTAURS is the first
to which the visitor should direct his attention. The origin of this
myth is thus described by Sir Henry Ellis: "The story of the Centaurs,
it is remarked, is of Thessalian origin. The people of Thessaly were
remarkably expert in horsemanship, and were supposed to be the first
in Greece who practised the art of riding on horseback. Pelion, and
other mountains in this part of Greece, abounding in wild bulls, these
ferocious animals were frequently hunted by the people of the country
on horseback, and when overtaken were seized by their pursuers, who
caught hold of them by the horns, in a manner not less dexterous than
daring. Hence, these hunters acquired the name of Centauri and
Hippocentauri. The novel sight of a man seated on a horse, and
galloping over the plains with more than human velocity, might easily
suggest to the minds of an ignorant peasantry, the idea of an animal
composed partly of a man and partly of a horse; and it was from this
simple origin, according to some explanations, that the fable of the
Centaurs sprung. We must remark, that we place no confidence in the
proposed etymology of the word Centauros, and almost as little in the
explanation of the story. The centaur Chiron in Homer was a model of
justice, and the poet appears to have had no idea of the monstrous
combination of two animals. Pindar, in his second Pythian Ode, first
makes us acquainted with the Hippocentaur, or half horse and half man.
Though it cannot be imagined that the Greeks ever regarded this
tradition otherwise than as a fable, so far as the double nature of
the animal was concerned, yet it is curious, to observe, with what
care and devotion they recorded the particulars of this fiction in
their poems, sculpture, paintings, and other monuments of art. The
Centaurs were invited to the nuptials of Pirithous, king of the
Lapithae. During the marriage feast, one of the Centaurs, named
Eurytion, or Eurytus, with the characteristic brutality of his nature,
and elated by the effects of wine, offered violence to the person of
Hippodamia, the bride. This outrageous act was immediately resented by
Theseus, the friend of Pirhitous, who hurled a large vessel of wine at
the head of the offender, which brought him lifeless to the ground. A
general engagement then ensued between the two parties; and the
Centaurs not only sought to revenge the death of their companion,
Eurytus, but likewise attempted to carry off the females who were
guests at the nuptials. In this conflict, sustained on both sides with
great fury, the Centaurs were finally vanquished, and driven out of
Thessaly; after which they took up their abode in Arcadia, where they
provoked the anger of Hercules, who completely destroyed the whole of
their race. Such is the general outline of the mythic history of the
Centaurs."

Bearing this outline of the classical story in his mind, the visitor
may at once proceed to examine the first eleven slabs upon which the
incidents in the story of the Centaurs and the Lapithae are
elaborated. The visitor will, of course, begin with tablet No. 1, and
proceed to the others in the regular order in which they are marked.

On approaching the first slab (1) the visitor will perceive a Centaur
overcome by two Lapithae, and about to be dispatched. Another Centaur
from behind, however, arrests the uplifted arm of one Lapitha. The
battle proceeds fiercely on the second slab (2). A Centaur is tearing
the shoulder of a Lapitha with his teeth, while the Lapitha drives a
stout sword direct into his assailant's body. A dead Centaur lies in
the foreground, and the heels of the stabbed Centaur strike against
the shield of a second Lapitha. The origin of the battle begins to
appear on the third slab (3), where a woman is represented with a
child in her arms resisting the violence of a Centaur, while another
Centaur at the further end of the slab is getting the better of a
kneeling Lapitha. The fourth tablet would be probably unintelligible
to the general visitor without special explanation. Here the Centaurs
are endeavouring to crush an enemy with huge blocks of stone. This
particular enemy is the Caeneus of Greek fable, whom Neptune had
rendered invulnerable to the effect of swords and clubs, and whom
Centaurs are endeavouring to overcome by crushing his body with masses
of rock. The fifth slab (5) presents a more cheerful view of the
battle for the Lapithae; here two Centaurs are being overcome by two
of their enemies in revenge for their brutal conduct at the bridal
banquet. The sixth tablet (6) again illustrates the hazards of war.
Here a female is between two of the brutal Centaurs, one of whom has
felled a Lapitha to the ground; but the left hand part of the slab is
so mutilated that the merits of the sculpture are here hardly
appreciable. The seventh (7) slab also represents the Lapithae losing
ground. Here, it has been shrewdly conjectured the chief personages of
the battle are represented. The female in the arms of the Centaur is
supposed to be Hippodamia; and the figure struggling from the grasp of
another Centaur, that of King Pirithous fighting for his outraged
bride. The next tablet (8) is in a very dilapidated condition. The
central figure is that of a muscular Centaur, with his mantle flowing
from his neck, in the act of hurling something at a Lapitha who stands
stoutly on the defensive, while in the further corner a female with
her child is flying from pursuers. The ninth tablet (9) discovers two
vanquished Centaurs, and Lapithae in the act of dispatching their
mongrel enemies. The battle is represented at its climax on the next
slab (10). Here, as the wicked Centaur, Eurytion, is disrobing the
King's bride, and her bridesmaid is indulging in exaggerated attitudes
of despair, a figure supposed to be that of the renowned founder of
Athens, Theseus, springs upon the Centaur's shoulders, and drags back
his head, that the brute may not gaze upon the charms he would
pollute. The figure behind the bride is supposed to represent Diana,
the goddess of Chastity. It is a pity that the leg and arm of the
Theseus, and one arm of the bridesmaid are fractured. The last slab of
those sculptured with the battle of the Centaurs, represents Apollo
and Diana in a car - Apollo the deliverer; Diana the guardian of female
chastity. Having fully examined these beautiful specimens of Greek art
of the time of Pericles, the visitor should turn at once to the
remaining slabs, which are devoted to the illustration of

A BATTLE WITH THE AMAZONS.

Plutarch gives a graphic account of those dissensions between Theseus
and the Amazons, which terminated in the famous war here celebrated.
"Philochorus," he says, "and some others relate, that he (Theseus)
sailed in company with Hercules into the Euxine Sea, to wage war with
the Amazons, and that he received Antiope as the reward of his valour,
but the greater number, (among whom are Pherecydes, Hellanicus, and
Herodotus,) tell us, that Theseus made the voyage with his own fleet
alone, some time after Hercules, and took that Amazon captive, which
is indeed the more probable account; for we do not read that any other
of his fellow-warriors made any Amazon prisoner. But Bion says, he
took and carried her off by a stratagem. The Amazons (he informs us)
being naturally lovers of men, were so far from avoiding Theseus when
he touched upon their coasts, that they sent him presents. Theseus
invited Antiope, who brought them, into his ship, and, as soon as she
was aboard, set sail. But the account of one Menecrates, who published
a history of Nice in Bithynia, is that Theseus, having Antiope aboard
his vessel, remained in those parts some time; and that he was
attended in this expedition by three young men of Athens, who were
brothers, Enneos, Thoas, and Solon. The last of these, unknown to the
rest, fell in love with Antiope, and communicated his passion to one
of his companions, who applied to Antiope about the affair. She firmly
rejected his pretensions, but treated him with civility, and prudently
concealed the matter from Theseus. But Solon, in despair, having
leaped into a river and drowned himself, Theseus, then sensible of the
cause, and the young man's passion, lamented his fate, and in his
sorrow recollected an order of the priestess, which he had formerly
received at Delphi; that when, in some foreign country, he should
labour under the greatest affliction, he should build a city there,
and leave some of his followers to govern it. Hence, he called the
city which he built Pythopolis, after the Pythian god, and the
neighbouring river, in honour of the young man, Solon. He left the two
surviving brothers to govern it, and give it laws; and along with them
Hermus, who was of one of the best families in Athens. From him the
inhabitants of Pythopolis call a certain place in their city Hermus's
House, and, by exchanging an accent, transfer the honour from the hero
to the god (Mercury). Hence the war with the Amazons took its rise:
and it appears to have been no slight or womanish enterprise, for they
could not have encamped in the town, or joined battle on the ground
about the Pnyx and the Museum, or fallen in so intrepid a manner upon
the city of Athens, unless they had first reduced the country about
it. It is difficult, indeed, to believe (though the story is told by
Hellanicus) that they crossed the Cimmerian Bosphorus upon the ice,
but that they encamped almost in the heart of the city, is confirmed


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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 14 of 17)