14.1.11

Animals at the Ashmolean


Last Wednesday saw me in Oxford to pick up a frame for a painting. After our
last visit to the Ashmolean and with my new determination to do more observational sketching, I decided to spend a few hours pottering there. I always like to begin with this staircase, as it takes me back to my art student days and the first time I breathlessly and reverently climbed them to visit the Renaissance rooms. I can still remember the emotional choke in my throat (dramatic child that I was) as I paid my respects to the Masters and began my own long artistic journey.


I like the continuity of returning with another sketchbook, over twenty years on, still tramping that same road, which has twisted in ways I could not have dreamt of then. And now I find the new extension has caught my heart too. It also leaves me breathless, though for a different reason.


I actually feel a little sick if I get too near the glass partitions and look down - or up. But I love the way you can watch the other galleries and their occupants on all levels, like a giant cultural ant's nest coiling round the central space which seems to me like an invisible pillar rising through the centre of the museum.


Needless to say, I took many photos of this and that, flashless photography (for personal use) being allowed. Just look at this little collection of lovelies - three needlework 'favours' or love tokens from the 1600s, each just few inches tall -


- and a sweet gold wirework frog purse from the same era, used for carrying herbs or perfumed sachets. I wonder if I could reconstruct a similar design?


But with all this visual wealth around me, I had to narrow my choice of subject down if I were not to become overwhelmed. So I naturally picked animals. Like this adorable little hare tureen, which could sit in one's hand.



And this exquisite porcelain cat, which I think is some kind of pill box -



- scaring the nearby tapestry parrot.


I found myself more drawn to the Oriental galleries, perhaps because my own style is similarly curvaceous.



A wonderful piece of Satsuma ware, a mouse sitting on a turnip. Size is roughly that of large cooking apple.


Ivory monkey with dragonfly, just a few inches long. The tiny dragonfly is about the size of my little fingernail.


I fell in love with this deceptively simple hare-shaped lacquered incense box the last time we were here. It measures about two and a half inches across and to me is absolute design perfection. I think if I could have just one thing from the thousands of things in the Ashmolean, it would be this.


As with the landscape notes I made last weekend, the object of my sketching was not to produce a page of pretties nor even to make notes for future work. Neither was the challenge to exactly copy the object itself.




What I wanted to do was explore the design style of each piece and the way each individual artist had interpreted and tweaked the animal form, especially if it was also a functional item. Trying to get inside their creative minds as I worked; and at the end of the exercise, the final scribbles were really just a crude record. The real result was what had been imprinted in my visual memory and loosening up my hand skills. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.


19 comments:

Soozcat said...

So many wonderful things for the eye here, but that watercolor mouse...

rachel said...

I think I could see that little hare shape in felt......

A very lovely selection; thank you!

Sweet Birdy Love said...

Wow, a place chock full of treasures. Those needlework 'love tokens' are exquisite. I wonder if the recipient really appreciated the amount of effort that went into them......
Love the little mouse on the turnip and the hare tureen.
Can understand why you don't like getting too near the glass partitions Gretel. The angle of the 3rd photo had me feeling quite giddy........... and I was sitting down!
Claire :)

Charlotte said...

Lovely, I love the little exhibits there.

Julia Guthrie said...

Gosh, what a palace of treasures!! :)

Jill said...

What a treat, thank you for sharing this wonderful collection of treasures. I think the little frog has to be a favourite.

Natasha said...

I love the needle work flowers, they're gorgeous!

moonbindery said...

Lucky you, getting to visit the Ashmolean. I do like that needlework frog -- his legs are just perfect!

Laurel said...

I loved your last post on the Ashmolean and I love this one, too! I really love the glass galleries: it's modern but done in a way that looks very organic to the collection, from afar anyway.

Thank you so much for picking out a few treasures for us to look at. I have small children and live in an area that's not heavy in museums so I haven't been to a museum with adequate time to look around in, oh, forever.

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Perhaps we can share the lacquered hare....

Menopausal musing said...

Oh Gretel, what a beautiful photo laden post..... I keep meaning to get to the Ashmolean again, since I made my first visit just a couple of weeks before it closed for refurbishment/extending. It looks stunning!

gillianleesmith said...

what a wonderful place it looks Gretel - so much visual treasure! It is one of the things I sorely miss, not living in Edinburgh anymore with it's wealth of museums and galleries. I am not even sure that Nottingham has anything even remotely close. I am really enjoying your journey through drawing ...

Frances said...

Gretel, it is so kind of you to share your visit to the Ashmolean animals with us.

There are so many ways that artists from various times and places have been inspired by beautiful animals. When I visit our giant Metropolitan Museum, I often like to wander around the galleries that exhibit items with no named creator. I just marvel that hundreds of years ago certain folks were able to create magnificent pieces from all sorts of materials, in all sorts of sizes, and that I am able to see them.

Like you, I often find myself trying to imagine how these wonders were brought forth.

That clear and open staircase would freak me out a bit too, I admit it!

xo

frayedattheedge said...

What a visual feast - and of course I like the needlework favours best!!

Chrissie said...

Oh Gretel, what a treasurehouse indeed - I'm in love with the hare tureeen.

Rowan said...

I've never been to the Ashmolean Museum although I know it holds many treasures. Those needlework favours are just beautiful, I must make time for another visit to Oxford and spend a few hours looking round the Museum.

Twiglet said...

What a feast of little treasures - thank you for sharing them.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Wow.

Eliane said...

Must must must go back to the Ashmolean. Such a lovely museum with a great collection and your pictures make me itch to see the new architecture.

Can just see a dormouse like the ink sketch you photographed and I really like the horse with the turquoise mane - beautiful colour.