The Byzantium exhibition is organised by the Royal Academy of Arts in collaboration with the Benaki Museum in Athens, and showcases important Byzantium treasures. It is the first major exhibition on Byzantine art in the UK for 50 years and has become so popular since it opened in October 2008 that weekend tickets sell out weeks in advance. Lucky we could visit during the week then ;-)
Burlington House, Royal Academy of Arts, London
The exhibition is held in Burlington House, a magnificent listed building on Piccadilly, in the centre of London, opposite Fortnum & Mason. It was originally a private Palladian mansion, and was expanded in the mid 19th century after being purchased by the British government. I'd been past Burlington House several times and had even made it into the courtyard once or twice, but never actually seen the inside of the building, which I have to say is just as impressive as the outside.
Considering it was 10 AM on a Friday morning, the place was pretty packed. I hate to think what it'd be like on a Saturday or Sunday!
The exhibition begins with the foundation of Constantinople in 330 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and concludes with the capture of the city by the Ottoman forces of Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. It explores the origins of Byzantium; the rise of Constantinople; the threat of iconoclasm when emperors banned Christian figurative art; the post-iconoclast revival; the remarkable crescendo in the Middle Ages and the close connections between Byzantine and early Renaissance art in Italy in the 13th and early 14th centuries. The first item you see as you enter the exhibition is a large copper chandelier from the 13th or 14th century, which is decorated with sphinxes and double-headed eagles. You can just about make it out through the double doors in the previous photo. You can also see a close up below - it's the only photograph I took, before Lucy saw the "no photography" sign.
It was a shame that photography wasn't allowed, because there were lots of interesting objects that I'd have loved to take pictures of, and hardly any of them were available as postcards in the museum shop. As you would expect there were a lot of icons, but also wall paintings, micro-mosaics, ivories, enamels, jewellery and metalwork, some of which have never been displayed in public before. One of the most impressive exhibits was the silver perfume brazier in the form of a domed building that appears on all the exhibition banners. All the icons were beautiful too.
We spent a good two hours at the exhibition which felt more like twenty minutes. That's a huge compliment coming from me, as I'm not really a museum person and tend to get bored easily when I'm in semi-darkness, esp. when there's nothing to take pictures of. However, in this case, the two hours went past in a flash.
British Museum, London
By the time we left Burlington House the sun had come out, so we wandered round Soho and ended up at the British Museum - but that's a topic for another post.