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museums at night | the valley of lost things

museums at night

This is the weekend of Museums at Night 2014.  Most of the Cambridge University museums arranged something for the evening. I had imagined moody atmospheric lighting with dramatic shadows, so I was keen to take photographic advantage of the unusual light, not appreciating that we have, in fact, moved on from the dark evenings of winter to longer summer days. Indeed, we’re only a month away from the longest day!

So I was fortunate that my museum of choice, the Museum of Classical Archaeology, is relaxed about photography (though not tripods) and has collections that are far less sensitive to atmospheric conditions than many museums. It can therefore allow in far more daylight than most. As a result, I spent a very enjoyable few hours yesterday taking photographs in the gentle light of the setting sun as it entered the said museum at a shallow angle. The Roman, Greek and Egyptian sculptures, casts and especially the friezes looked amazing with just a hint of light bringing out the shapes, as though it had all been carefully planned. And who am I to suggest that it hadn’t?

With all of the historical objects around me, it was reminiscent of the stunning Neolithic cairn at Maes Howe on Orkney where the entrance tunnel to the tomb lines up with the setting sun on the winter Solstice, thus illuminating the rear wall of the central chamber. I’m certainly not suggesting that the museum’s architect aligned the entire building and roof light purely for the setting sun on Museums at Night night, but it would be impressive if s/he had.

It seems fitting to end with a quote from Historic Scotland about the significance of Maes Howe and the nearby sites of Skara Brae:

“The monuments at the heart of Neolithic Orkney and Skara Brae proclaim the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places. They were approximately contemporary with the mastabas of the archaic period of Egypt (first and second dynasties), the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India, and a century or two earlier than the Golden Age of China. Unusually fine for their early date, and with a remarkably rich survival of evidence, these sites stand as a visible symbol of the achievements of early peoples away from the traditional centres of civilisation … Maes Howe is a masterpiece of Neolithic peoples. It is an exceptionally early architectural accomplishment. With its almost classical strength and simplicity it is a unique survival from 5000 years ago. It is an expression of genius within a group of people whose other tombs were claustrophobic chambers in smaller mounds.”

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Sunday, May 18th, 2014 event, museum, sculpture

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