On Monday afternoon we went to look at the free exhibition the British Museum have on till the end of September about horses. To be honest I was much less interested in this in advance than other exhibitions we’ve been to, but it turned out to be more interesting than I’d expected.
This exhibition was part of commemorating the Diamond Jubilee, and as such I think part of the context was “The Queen likes & owns race horses”. And the Saudia Arabian royal family were involved in sponsoring it, so even the broader view than thoroughbred race horses was still fairly focused on Arabian horses.
It felt very much like an exhibition of two halves, and of the two I much prefered the first which focused more generally on horses in the ancient Middle East. The three rooms devoted to this covered a time period from the earliest references to horses about 5000 years ago to the medieval Islamic Middle East. The ancient era section had a few iconic items – like the Royal Standard of Ur, and some of the Amarna letters – as well as several Assyrian wall fragments (decorated with horses, and lion hunts) and pieces of ancient horse tack. Particularly striking in this section was the model horse head with the pieces of bridle etc put in their proper places, as a non-horsey person I appreciated the chance to see what things actually were rather than relying on my understanding of the technical terms.
It was also interesting to see how some of Egyptian culture clearly permeated through other parts of the Middle East – there were some Phoenician horse cheek guards which had lotus flowers or eyes of Horus on them. And model chariots or horses seemed to frequently have Bes faces (an Egyptian protective deity) on them.
The last room of this half had a model horse & rider in Sassanian style, in metal armour. And also some textile armour for both people & horses in the Islamic medieval period – as J said this looked like a horse-cosy, very like a tea-cosy! There were also some Korans (I’m not entirely sure why), and several paintings of people on horses from Islamic Middle Eastern countries.
And then the next room went back to prehistoric times, but this time in the Arabian peninsula, with a display of rock carvings of horses & neolithic Arabian tools loosely connected with horses. I think it would’ve been more interesting if this part and the bit with the Korans had been replaced with a bit about the horse in British society in general – as the next parts were about racehorses and Arabian purebred horses in the UK.
I didn’t know before this exhibition but pretty much all racehorses these days are thoroughbreds descended from 3 Arabian sires brought to the UK in around the 17th century and bred with native mares. These crosses turned out to be faster than the other horses in the races and came to dominate the racing scene. This part of the exhibition contained several paintings of famous horses, some pedigrees of particular lines and several things loaned by Her Majesty the Queen – like a set of silks (the jockey’s racing gear). I was particularly amused to see the paintings of the horse Pot8os – so named because when the groom was asked to write the name “potatoes” on the horse’s stall he wrote “Pot oooo oooo” and the owner was sufficiently amused to keep it as the actual name. The first ever txtspk! (in Victorian times, iirc.)
I spent a while at the end sitting infront of the small film of “horses in action” that they had, while I was waiting for J to catch up … particularly amusing (second only to the dancing horses of dressage) was the Queen jumping up in delight as her horse won something in 1954 and the gentleman next to her looked like he stood up because you can’t sit while the Queen stands, not for any other reason.
Retail: We dithered about whether or not to pick up the book of the exhibition, but in the end decided we would. We also got a mug with a picture of Sassanian horses on it, and I looked at (but didn’t buy) lots of other nice but expensive things.
Other exhibits: We had a quick look at the Olympic medals display in the museum – this has the medals for this year plus a short explanation of the design & manufacture of them. And some medals and memorabilia of previous London games. I’ve got a small selection of photos up on flickr, of which this is a taster:
Also while J went back to the Shakespeare exhibition and then looked at Egyptian stuff, I went to look at the Japanese galleries more for the purpose of taking photos than looking at the labels. Photos to come at some future date 🙂
Other things: Dinner at Pizza Express, then back to the museum for the Members Open Evening, of which more another time.