On Thursday Willem and I headed up to Oxford for a short visit – a friend was visiting from Australia and invited us for afternoon tea at the Randolph. Since the Ashmolean Museum is just over the road from the Randolph, we made it a plan to go and visit one of the best museums in England.
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology University of Oxford, to give it its proper name, was re-opened last November with much fanfare after a period of renovation and new building. While the old museum was well worth a visit, the new museum is a must see. The displays are well organised and fascinating, with the right blend of cultural sensitivity but not-too ‘right-on’ or politically correct that can make some museums seem a little too pretentious or trying too hard. There are some touchscreens around the place, but the focus is defintely on looking at the artefacts not reading about them on computer screens, which I also really like.
On the train trip up to Oxford Willem had become a little distressed that we forgot to bring a sketch book. So after sorting out lunch in the basement cafe at the Ashmolean, we had to make a quick diversion to the shop to buy a sketch book and pencil. Willem happily wandered around finding things to draw in the various sections, stretching himself out on the floor so as to more easily render Burmese Buddhas or Iznik bowls. If your child is not in to sketching but does like doing more than just looking at things, the Museum produces a free ‘discovery trail’, or you could be like us and buy the Ashmolean Discovery Book, which is a rather nice activity book which encourages young readers to look for different objects in each of the different sections of the museum, with a range of stickers, drawing activities and other things to keep them occupied.
While there are many highlights to the museum, one favourite was the the Shrine of Taharqa, which has been completely rebuilt in the Ancient Egypt and Nubia gallery. Willem was also impressed with the Samurai armour, Paul Uccello’s painting The Hunt in the Forest, and the money collection which spans centuries of coinage and trade.
Oh, and afternoon tea at the Randolph was a very civilised affair and Willem acquitted himself very well. Admittedly that may be due to having an iPhone to play with for most of the time we were there, but he did manage to stay quiet and provide a bit of conversation beyond just ‘yes’ or ‘no’, so one can’t complain …