30 November 2013

Drawing at the British Museum

The morning found the two of us in the Islamic galleries, which have wonderful objects. I sat down almost at random and found myself in front of these two dishes with birds -
They're from Iran, 15th and 16th century. Drawing painted pottery can be frustrating - the application of the paint to the shape of the dish is very different from using a pencil on a flat piece of paper. 

What to draw next ... those wonderful glass bottles? No, another bird - this harpy (bird-human hybrid) -
I just couldn't get the proportions right - but it's an intriguing object, different from the harpy tomb in the Greek section of the museum. It's from 19th century Qajar Iran, as is the mace behind it, with its horned human head - it might have been used in dervish processions.
The damascened decoration was much more obvious on this - the harpy had very faint traces of inlaid-metal patterns, and on the head the patterns look like all-over tattooing.

Nearby, these inscriptions on basalt from 15th century Bengal, in a type of script called tughra'i, an elegant version of thuluth script -
But instead of drawing these we went to lunch. 

On return, a look at the Mostyn Tompion clock, on display near the entrance, make in 1689 for the coronation of William II (he of William and Mary). It needs winding just once a year, and this panel explains why -
Extra wheels, massive springs, and tiny escarpment are the secrets. It strikes the hour, 1 to 12, an impressive 56,940 times on one annual winding.

It was the house-like structure of the clock that caught my eye (a house that runs like clockwork?) and in the clock gallery were other clock housings -

All are from the mid-1500s. But when it came to drawing, we gave the clocks a miss and settled for "simpler" objects, in my case some of the gold boxes in this collection, given to the museum by Peter Wilding -
See them more closely here; they are exquisitely, beautifully made. Wilding (1907-1969), who contributed to the design of the boxes and supplied some of the gemstones used, commissioned them to show that fine workmanship wasn't something that just Fabergé could do.

Wonderful to learn about them, less wonderful to draw them - except that the attempt to draw does make you look closely. I would very much rather be drawing a handmade object, however rough.

For me, the day didn't yield a satisfying collection of objects/drawing, but reflecting on the reason for my dissatisfaction did suggest a way forward. I had been using various drawing materials (pencil, pen, lumograph), all in my usual book ... and was unsure which pencil etc would be "right" for the different objects. So next time I'll focus on trying different papers with different pencils and pens, and draw the same type of objects - perhaps those glass bottles in the Islamic gallery, with their wonderful shapes ... or the clock housings....

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