Treasure That Will Outshine This Dark Age of Criticism

Daily Mail (London), December 1, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Treasure That Will Outshine This Dark Age of Criticism


Byline: ALLAN MASSIE

THE new Museum of Scotland grew from the National Museum of Antiquities in Queen Street, Edinburgh, and has itself been a long time in the making.

It is almost half a century since the then Secretary of State James Stuart, agreed that land should be set aside and it is almost ten years since another Tory Secretary of State, Malcolm Rifkind, gave the go-ahead to the building of what is now open.

It is a building which is uncompromisingly modern.

That is right, for it is a poor age that has no confidence in its own taste. But it is also a building which respects its surroundings, and, when its newness has worn off, one that will sit very comfortably among them.

The 19th-century was the great age of public building in Scotland. Almost all our great national and civic galleries and museums date from the 100 years between Waterloo and World War I. The new museum will prove, I am certain, the best public building erected in Scotland since Sir Robert Lorimer's great National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle.

From the outside it looks like a fortress, echoing the castle visible from the roof terrace. Inside, it is subtle and varied. You descend from the airy space of the Hawthornden Court into galleries telling the story of Scotland before Man came on the scene, and then opening out for you the Scotland of the Picts and Celts.

You then rise up in time through the Kingdom of the Scots, moving from the dim light of the so-called Dark Ages - a light which makes the living artefacts of those times mysterious and poetic, and yet wonderfully immediate. The higher you ascend to the 20th-century, the more you are exposed to light.

Level three offers a wonderfully exhilarating experience of Scotland's achievements Industry and Empire - presented as matters for pride.

The Victorians and Edwar-dians are on the fourth floor, and the gallery on the top level is presently devoted to an exhibition of 20th-century objects chosen by individuals.

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