Harbingers of joy…. or dilapidated musical instruments

A weekend in Oxford: Blake at the Ashmolean, a sampling of the culinary delights of the covered market and then the architectural heights of Oxford’s colleges, followed by a trip to see the infamous shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum. https://www.flickr.com/photos/brett-tully/3824170054/

This last is the polar opposite of the first, which features carefully-grouped objects and award-winning interpretations. The Pitt Rivers is ordered chaos, closely-packed cases crammed with objects grouped by theme. This results in surprising juxtapositions, quite apart from some of the themes themselves being unexpected. ‘Treatment of Dead Enemies’ features not only the infamous shrunken heads, which are about the size of a golf ball, but also skulls caged in woven wicker and carefully removed and tanned skins re-stretched over bone. Compare and contrast with ‘Treatment of Relatives’ nearby. in ‘Stringed instruments’, an Hawaiian ukulele can be found back to back with a fantastically creative Burmese interpretation of the European violin, presumably copied from a sailor’s fiddle. It looks (roughly) the right shape, with four corners instead of two, topped by fantastically ornate Burmese ‘scroll’. But possibly heavy and unresponsive…

‘To know what is enough one must know more than enough’. William Blake, works on display in the Ashmolean. His vision was so personal I wondered if one can understand it without having had one’s own mystical experiences. Certainly, the inadequacy of reason as a tool in understanding his work seems to have unsettled many. I experienced moments of direct response, and found joy in a small relief etching from ‘Europe: A Prophecy’ of two dynamc human figures, male and female, buoyed up on flowing lines, blowing fantastical trumpets.

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