Recently, I had the opportunity to visit The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the world’s oldest university museum. Usually when I visit, I go straight to the Cast Gallery, as that’s my favourite part – it’s filled with plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures, including some of my favourite sculptures, such as the Paionios Nike, and sections of some of my favourite buildings, such as the Great Altar at Pergamum. However, this time, I decided to have a look around at some of the things I’d usually just pass by, and this granted me the opportunity to find out more about the Ashmolean as a whole.
It’s honestly magical. It’s a fully bizarre museum where, even though it’s relatively small (in comparison to the likes of the British Museum), it is incredibly easy to get lost. It only has 3 or 4 floors, but many, many staircases, which are seemingly endless. Much like at Hogwarts, these staircases seem to move around, making the whole place rather labyrinthine (although at least steps don’t randomly disappear!)
The magic begins right outside, as the building looms majestically above you. Currently, guarding the entrance on either side are huge, angular, metallic beasts; origami beasts of sheet stainless steel without eyes or faces, but somehow still watchful with the vitality of a real creature. It’s like Newt Scamander is hiding in the forecourt.
Entering the building, you come across a long corridor of Greek statues, the gods towering above you, elevated on plinths.
Then it’s on to the Egyptian and Nubian Gallery, which contains small buildings – they currently have an entire shrine tucked inside the museum. Then there’s a sarcophagus that has been disassembled into its constituent parts, but instead of each part simply lying down, they are floating in the air, as if the sarcophagus has exploded in slow motion… I also saw a completely bizzare spoon shaped like a naked swimming girl!
After the Egyptian Gallery, I went in search of tapestries. However, amongst the moving staircases and multiple geometric floors and balconies (the museum slots together like a game of tetris), I never actually found them…
Instead, I found a collection of Middle Eastern interior furnishings, such as a 12th C carved Persian door and next to it the most gorgeous blue ties, of similar origin. Further along were Iranian lustre work bowls (and a really interesting exhibit about forgeries) which must have inspired William De Morgan, whose pottery I also saw recently!
Eventually, of course, despite a detour to a hidden away modern art section tucked into a corner of the uppermost, I found the Cast Gallery, my true favourite place.
The whole museum is truly brilliant, a maze of knowledge and relics of the past. It’s a place where you can stand face to face with the labours of people from 20 to 2,000 years ago and recognise the minute changes they made to their work, the individual brushstrokes and carvings. The real magic is not in the echos of Hogwarts the building has, but in the knowledge it contains, much like the city as a whole.