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Museums Old and New: some personal impressions

  • O. G. S. Crawford

Most readers of ANTIQUITYw ill have heard of the Pergamon Museum at Berlin; its opening was the chief event of the centenary celebrations of the German Archaeological Institute (see Mr R. G. Collingwood's note in ANTIQUITY, 1929, III, 339). Those, however, who have not actually seen it can hardly realize what an outstanding achievement that museum already is, even in its present unfinished state; nor perhaps do they know that the Pergamon reconstitutions do not stand alone. There are similar reconstitutions of other classical buildings and also of Middle Eastern remains. About five large rooms are at present opened, and their contents represent the high-water-mark of museum-craft in Europe, and are an objectlesson to the world ; but to me their significance seemed even deeper, marking the triumphal emergence of a new craft. I have seen many museums, but here for the first time in my life I felt completely satisfied. The ideal aimed at seemed to have been achieved; there was nothing to find fault with. Here at last was a thoroughly honest attempt to reconstruct ancient masterpieces of architecture, and to exhibit them without irrelevant distractions. The technique of exhibition achieves its end through simplicity and common sense. The lighting is admirable ; the floors of marble slabs (pink in the Altar-room and white or grey elsewhere) are thoroughly pleasing ; the walls are delightfully bare, with nothing but the briefest of labels carved in admirable lettering. The effect of the whole is over-whelming .

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1 I am concerned only with Europe in this essay. Having never been to America I can say nothing at first hand about the splendid museums there.

2 The following list of references was compiled at the museum:-

a. Ernst Herzfeld, Arch.Mitteiluqenaus Iran. Band II, heft 3 (June 1930); chronological table giving synchronisms with Zenjirli, Carchemish, Boghaz Kiöi etc. in parallel columns. See also his Appendix in Der Tell Halaf, 1931,225-233.

b. Illustrated London News, 25 Oct. and I Nov. 1930.

c. Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, 17 August 1930.

d. Pantheon (Bruckmann, Munich) April 1931, pp. 167-171 (‘Die Kunst des Tell Halaf’, by A. Ungnad; well illustrated).

Since then Freiherr von Oppenheim’s book has been published: —Der Tell Halaf (Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1931). It is not the full scientific publication, but an admirable general account which will be appreciated by both the general reader and specialists. We hope to publish a review of it at an early date.

3 The Louvre itself, without its contents, has recently been valued at £400,000,000, according to a report quoted in the London Evening Standard, 27 November 1931.

4 Man and his Past (Oxford, 1921) chapter 18. Some severe but justified criticisms of museums will be found in Sir Charles Close’s Presidential Address to the Hampshire Field Club on ‘The Deadliness of Museums’. It was printed in full in the Hampshire Chronicle for 2 May 1931 and will appear in the Proceedings of the Club.

5 The National Museums and Galleries of London : lectures and special exhibitions for October 1931. H.M. Stationary Office, qd. (Although nowhere stated, we presume this is a monthly publication).

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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