The origins of writing can be found 5,000 years ago; it began in different places around the world at different times and for different reasons. One of the main advantages of writing was the possibility of communication across time and space: we can, if we understand the alphabet and language used, read what somebody wrote several thousand years ago. Various writing systems and styles have developed, many of which have common ancestors. I found it fascinating to look at different systems and see how they developed from older ones.
Materials and technology have changed over the years, beginning with carved letters produced by a stylus in wax. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus before paper was developed. Handwriting, too, has undergone changes, created first with quill pens then fountain and ball point. Medieval manuscripts gave way to the printed word, which at first emulated the handwritten style. Calligraphy remains a valued, albeit niche, skill even since the development of typewriters and then computers.
Learning to write has always taken time and effort, even from the very beginning. Learning how to form letters is an important part of education for young children. The future of writing surely involves technology, with the increasing use of emojis, but people are still interested in notebooks and pens.
I popped into the British Library to see a small free exhibition called Animal Tales. It explored the different stories told about animals, “from Aesop’s Fables to Ted Hughes’s Crow”. It was interesting to see the variety of animals that have been presented between the pages of books, from fairy tales to childrens’ stories and even political satire (such as Animal Farm).
After a tense few days during which I feared I’d missed my chance – only a phone call to inquire about tickets saved me – I managed to get a ticket to the National Gallery‘s exhibition Rembrandt: The Late Works on its last day. My efforts proved to be well worth it: the exhibition was very well laid-out and organised, and I really appreciated the fact that information about the pictures was set out in a booklet rather than presented on labels beside the paintings – this meant that though the exhibition was very busy, it was still manageable because you weren’t faced with hordes of people crowded round the pictures trying to read the captions.
Of course, it goes without saying that the actual content – Rembrandt’s work – was stunning. I particularly liked the five self-portraits on display at the beginning: full of variety, they captured the painter in different moods and at different stages. The most affecting was the portrait painted in the year of his death (1669), which shows him as visibly frail, but I also liked the 1659 portrait in which he wears a quizzical expression.
The exhibition focuses on the later years of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), and like the Late Turner exhibition at Tate Britain that I visited last year, it shows that the artist did not become complacent or enter into a decline during his last years, but continued to experiment and develop as an artist. In particular, The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (c.1661) shows a profound mastery of the creation of darkness and light in painting, while his two versions of the Roman heroine Lucretia (1664 and 1666) are extremely powerful.
Less outwardly grand, but equally masterful, is his picture of his son Titus at his desk (1655), an affectionate and intimate portrait. Fully finished paintings sit alongside sketches and drawings in the exhibition, showing the developments of Rembrandt’s ideas and style, and several of these are exquisite, although their role in the development of the artist’s work will likely appeal more to other artists or art students.
This exhibition was well worth the visit and I am glad I managed to make it before the end.
The exhibition displays both mainstream and underground comics, demonstrating the breadth of subjects they have addressed throughout the years, including politics, gender, violence and sexuality. I enjoyed reading about the history of comics, from their roots in medieval manuscripts and the “Punch” character through to modern comics and graphic novels. I was left with several ideas about graphic novels to try, including Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and Posy Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe.
As a fan of the artist J.M.W. Turner, I went to visit the exhibition of his work at the National Maritime Museum, Turner and the Sea. I didn’t get time to look around the museum itself as I had to get back into central London, but I did manage to get a good look at the exhibition.
Turner is well known for his paintings of the sea and this exhibition beautifully showcases his best works – including The Fighting Temeraire, recently voted the nation’s greatest painting in a BBC poll – as well as some lesser-known works and sketches. There are also a number of works by other artists who inspired or were inspired by Turner.
The exhibition focused on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and mostly looked at monarchs and courtiers, exploring how their costumes displayed social status and other aspects of their culture and personality. At the time, royalty and the elite were trendsetters, and their clothing often influenced fashionable style.
While the majority of the exhibition was made up of paintings, many by important figures such as Hans Holbein the Younger and Peter Lely, some items of clothing were also on display, including gloves, a doublet and a lace collar. There were also some beautiful pieces of jewellery.