Wednesday, 25 July 2012

From Crafty to Crude - An all too brief ramble about the Ashmolean

This weekend finds me back wandering the hallowed streets of Oxford surrounded by dreaming spires and young go-getting students peddling thither and yon with very serious looks on their faces. Indeed, a recent study published recently in a recent edition of the Trumpington Bugle has shown conclusively that anyone just walking the streets of Oxford actually gets 9.6% more cleverer for the term of their stay compared to just 8.2% for those tourists exploring Cambridge.

I though decided to further exercise my already muscular intellect by visiting the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. My first time here since the refurbishment and addition of new buildings, including a stunning Atrium that serves to link the different galleries together, thus making it far more easy to navigate the seemingly endless rooms and corridors that take the willing visitor from Eastern Art to the latest Anglo Saxon finds right here in blighty. The museum is then a most delightful fusion of old and new and anyone visting this cathedral of knowledge can fill their brains with facts, but also the wondrous and downright unusual poo poos. Just the things we Ragged Ramblers like best.

Too much to do justice to in one post so I will focus on a few things that caught my eye in the England exhibition - A gallery that takes us from 400 - 1600 AD and from the very crafty to the downright crude. For what caught my eye first of all was this 14th century French 'Diptych' - An ivory carving depicting various scenes from the life of Christ. Just look at all that detail on a piece that only measures approximately 8 by 4 inches. If you click on the image to enlarge you can clearly see their little toes!

From thence to the music room where I took these rather blurry images of the neck of a 16th century Cittern...

As you can see some wonderfully intricate carvings of Adam and Eve and also a rather erotic depiction of a satyr and satyress about to get up to no good below a most magnificent Greenman whose tongue is intertwined with those of two beasts; one either side. A wonderful scene and enough to make even the Contributions Secretary blush! This is of course high status craftsmanship that would have cost its owners a lot of coin long ago and it still has the power to please these many hundreds of years later. But it pleased me even more to see that even the Ashmolean has other objects in its collection that are far more crude, and in more ways than one:

Jack of Hilton

Feast your eyes then on Jack of Hilton - A crudely made 'hollow-cast copper alloy figure who dates from the late 13th or 14th century. A rare example of an aeolipile, or 'hearth blower'; a vessel was filled with water and warmed on the hearth to fan the flames with a jet of air released through the steam–pressure created within. I like many thought that the hot air must shoot out of his member, but Mrs Many-Coats who had scrutinised the figure far longer than some might think seemly, noticed that it hung too low to hold enough water to produce a constant jet of steam. And she was right, for it actually blows from the figures mouth. There is then a joke here, with the craftsman mocking our own lewd expectations. A joke that was cast some 700 odd years ago, but still has the power to make us laugh to this day!

+Many Coats+


  1. Miss Jean Angerstein-McTavish25 July 2012 at 16:24

    Ooach, Mr Mennycotes, wee Jack there reminds me o' ma dear, bonny Hamish, why tha's exaktly hoo he'd sit by the fire, after a wet day's a' piping roond the toons! Aye, an' he'd whistle a merry tune, tae... och, fine times they were, aye, they dinny mek men-folk like that nay more!
    Gi' ma best tae Mrs Menny-C, an' tell 'er I'm no done with the magazines just yet, no.

    1. It's always good to hear from you Miss Jean Angerstein-McTavish. And you're right, they don't make men like Hamish anymore. I remember him well, squatting in the corner of the sweat shack in just that pose when I was preparing for my 'flasking up'. I did point out that mine was meant to be a solitary experience, but he just gave me that knowing look and began blowing the fire. Except he didn't use his mouth if you take my meaning.

    2. Father would sometimes kneel like that, but only when mother had her back turned and was plumping the cushions.