The Fitzwilliam Museum is a colossal repository of treasured artifacts and just about everything from Chinese vases to Greek and Renaissance art, Knights’ armor to Egyptian sarcophagi.
Facade of the Museum
Walking by, from Peterhouse, I actually stumbled upon this entrance with two stone lions lazily looking at any wayfarer. A few steps in and the huge museum came into the frame. I was not sure of the purpose of the building initially but it looked so appealing (and Hellenistic) that I thought of exploring. A sheepish step at a time, I came to the fore and then came to know of its purpose. It was the Fitzwilliam Museum. I will briefly like to describe a few of its displays (in no particular order) with a few of the photographs I clicked (left, right and centre).
At the entrance of the Egyptology collection one comes across this eye-catching seven-ton sarcophagus lid of Ramesses III, believed to be one of the objects which started the section at the Museum. Ramesses III, son of Setnakhte, is said to be the last great Pharaoh of Egypt, who ruled after and during the time of great upheavals, such as the Trojan Wars and the fall of Mycenae. He was however successful in soundly defeating the ‘Sea People’, the community that obliterated the Hittite Empire. He died after ruling for 31 largely-peaceful years because of a conspiracy by one of his wives Tiye, to place her son on the throne, in which he was mortally wounded in 1183 BC.
Other artifacts in the Egyptology section include the coffin of Nespawersheyft and the granite sarcophagus of Hunefer, a scribe who was the owner of the Papyrus of Hunefer and the Papyrus of Ani, besides being given the titles of “Scribe of Divine Offerings” and “Overseer of Royal Cattle”, while being the steward of the Pharaoh Seti I.
The Painting, Drawings and Prints sections has a wide variety of displays (as the name suggests). It includes paintings by Italian Renaissance artists, especially those of the Venetian school, a collection of landscapes of all schools, a group of portraits and portrait miniatures by British artists and a beautiful range of works by French Impressionist painters.
The extensive print collection includes Northern European prints, portrait prints, and a collection of Japanese woodcuts as well.
The Greek and Roman Gallery is a must-see. It includes masterpieces like the Eleusis caryatid, the Lansdowne Relief, the ‘Dolphin Rock’and a marble head of Hermes.
The Eleusis Caryatid is a sculpted female figure that was constructed as an architectural column. The one in Fitzwilliam Museum is the upper part of one of a pair that flanked the gateway to the inner courtyard of the sanctuary of the Greek goddess of fertility – Demeter.
The Landsdowne Relief is dated to around 100-150 AD and was excavated from the site of the Emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli in Lazio, Italy. Hadrian was a patron of the arts and Tivoli is one of the largest and best preserved sites to have survived from Roman Italy. The Relief is decorated with scenes from Greek mythology connected to the sea. From left to right we firstly see Odysseus and the sirens, whose song Odysseus had to listen, as per the directions of the Goddess Circe, while being tied to the mast of his ship and making his accomplices shut their ears with beeswax. The famous Sirens’ song, translated, goes something like this –
“Famous Odysseus, great glory of Achaea, draw near, and bring your ship to rest, and listen to our voices. No man rows past this isle in his dark ship without hearing the honeysweet sound from our lips. He delights in it and goes his way a wiser man. We know all the suffering the Argives and the Trojans endured, by the gods’ will, on the wide plains of Troy. We know everything that comes to pass on the fertile Earth.“
Next on the relief, to the right of Odysseus and the Sirens, we find the wine god Dionysos transporting the gift of wine in the form of a spreading grape vine, across the sea to Greece, and then the Argonauts with the man-eating Stymphalian birds. There are also scenes of hunting in the marshes, sea creatures, and figures emerging from flowers, garlands and leaves.
Near the entrance and on the first floor one has a beautiful collection of statues, some of which are shown below. I hope you enjoyed reading this small glimpse into the world of the Fitzwilliam. I may make another trip to the place and get to learn about a few other sections (and click more photographs, with a fully charged phone this time!).