I am currently en route to Bath in a quiet carriage that is anything but quiet. Although the programme doesn’t start until tomorrow night, I wanted a couple of days in Bath to relax beforehand and visit some more museums. Since I have some spare time I thought I’d write a little blog post on the British Library. I visited the library post-Museum of London with the intention of seeing a Punk Music exhibition. It was interesting, but, I really want to write about the Sir John Rittblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library.
I have to admit I only went into the gallery because I could feel how amazing the air conditioning was inside. It was a hot day so don’t judge. Anyway, I was very glad, well extremely glad, to have walked in because the gallery contains some of the most incredible paper-based objects I have ever seen. If you like music, history, sacred texts, maps, or beautiful art then there is guaranteed to be something in the gallery that gives you goosebumps.
For me, seeing the handwriting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney was a real highlight. The library has the original written lyrics of Yesterday and Ticket to Ride. It was incredible to see their actual handwriting and, even more so, their editing. Words were crossed out and replaced and you could physically see the evolution of the songs we have come to know and love.
Since the space was so dark and cold and calming I spent a little longer looking around. Obviously the environment of the room was controlled for conservation reasons etc, but, it did create a really nice atmosphere. Also, it was pretty empty so no distractions!
After the Beatles I went to the cabinets marked history. The first two objects I saw were the Magna Carta and a letter from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Next to these was a letter regarding the Gun Powder Plot. I had the time and the space to stand looking at them for a long time trying to translate the writing. This was no easy feat. Some of the letters had writing going both horizontally and vertically. It was like trying to read doctor’s handwriting but slightly worse.
I then had a look at a few cabinets called Art of the Book. I have always wanted to see illuminated manuscripts in person. Some of them were stunning and the colours were still so bright! They really highlight the importance of preventative conservation. I was so excited to see a blood-letting anatomy book on display in this section. I could look at old medical books all day. They are morbidly beautiful.
There is just so much in this gallery that I considered writing a post just name dropping people like Da Vinci and Cromwell. What amazed me the most is that I never felt overwhelmed or confused in the space. Having such an eclectic mix of books and manuscripts just seemed to work. I think this is because the focus was not on the overall gallery, but, on each individual object. All in all a great way to spend an afternoon surrounded by words and ideas some of which have literally changed how we see the world.
(No photography was allowed in the exhibition hence only one blog photo of the entrance)