13 October 2010


In the Ashmolean Museum, before its expensive and unneccesary makeover, there was a bit of an old Greek pot, captioned "Man courting boy". After the makeover, this became "Paedophile and victim". Many of us complained about such culturally anachronistic language; either we got a brush-off or (in my case) not even the courtesy of a reply. Then Mr Orator Jenkyns, at the last Encaenia, had the entire University rolling in the aisles (aisles in the Sheldonian Theatre? Let it pass ...) after he made a joke about it in his Creweian Oration.

As I passed it by the other day, on my way to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition (not very memorable unless you have a passion for women who either are, or look exactly like, Janey Morris), I cast an eye at the now celebrated pot. The caption has changed: it now reads "Man and Boy making love. The nature of Greek homosexuality is the subject of current academic debate".

The power of rhetoric! But do go and look at the tiny Leland exhibition in the Proscholium at the entrance to Bodley. Unlike Jane MorrisX20, he won't cost you £8.

And more captions: the other day I had a quick squint at the new Medieval rooms at the V & A, where there are examples of the usual art-historian fashion for the past tense when describing what Christians "did". When they do use the present tense, it can be accompanied by a strange assimilation of Catholic practice to folk-Protestantism: as when a video of a Palm Sunday Procession in the Catholic high Alps refers to the priest as "the Vicar" and to the servers as "choir boys".

1 comment:

Walter said...

Thank you for these personal thoughts; they make our Christian teeth grind.
But at least you walk away from it having seen it in its true light.
Imagine: those caption-makers got paid for their words! Not the 'objective' intelligence you expect from museum people. As my organ teacher would've remarked, "They bespeak the lowest possible common denominator..."