Picture Galleries outside London: The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

By Bruce, Donald | Contemporary Review, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Picture Galleries outside London: The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


Bruce, Donald, Contemporary Review


Matthew Arnold's lines in The Scholar-Gipsy about 'this strange disease of modem life,/With its sick hurry' have now come sadly home to the city and the season he so greatly venerated. St Aldate's, the Cornmarket and the High Street choke in the rush of transport. The 'base and brickish' suburbs Gerard Manley Hopkins complained of have mostly been cleared away. It is traffic which now 'sours/That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded/Best in'. Only in the precinct around the Radcliffe Camera can one now walk and breathe freely in a central Oxford summer.

Outside this fortuitous island, one looks for a refuge from the modern pollution which not long ago eroded the faces of the ancient caesars around Wren's Sheldonian Theatre, so ominous in Max Beerbohm's 'Oxford love story', Zuleika Dobson. Such a refuge, and immensely more, may be found within the seemly Hellenism of Cockerell's Ashmolean Museum: at least until the unconscionably early hour of four in the afternoon, when an actual portcullis comes down with a brutal clang, to the polite astonishment of many visitors, on so much beauty. Cockerell's placid building confronts the troubled Ruskinian Gothic of the Randolph Hotel across the road. The Randolph also has its paintings, less august but possibly more inventive and dexterous than most of the contemporaneous works in the Ashmolean, since the ballroom is decorated with Osbert Lancaster's scenes from the life of Zuleika Dobson.

Like so much else in the past of Oxford, the history of the Ashmolean Museum is intricate and puzzling. Elias Ashmole's cabinet of curiosities (in the words of Joseph Addison, 'the trifling rarities of the virtuoso') has long been dispersed among several Oxford museums and institutes. The paintings by European masters, with which alone we are now concerned, include works lavishly but embarrassingly bestowed on the Bodleian Library, which had little room to display them. From 1850 onwards benefactors such as T.H. Fox-Strangways, later Fourth Earl of Ilchester, donated the forty paintings which are the core of the Ashmolean collection, as well as presenting thirty-nine more to the Christ Church Picture Gallery. The Ashmolean gallery has been in its present ambience since 1908, augmented by private gifts, such as the incomparable collection of Northern European still-life paintings presented by the husband of Daisy Linda Ward in memory of his wife, herself an accomplished painter in that exacting genre, and by pictures such as Piero di Cosimo's Forest Fire, awarded by the National Art-Collections Fund.

The two best-known pictures in the gallery, a pair of bustling rectangles, face each other across the Renaissance Room. In the stir and rouse of Paolo Uccello's Stag Hunt gaudy mannikins, mostly in open-mouthed profile, curvet after their twisting hounds into a dark, watery forest, arched by its foremost trees into three vistas of green shadow. Because of Uccello's exactness in the art of perspective, decried though it was by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists, the terrain seems to recede into a boundless distance.

Vasari also mentions in the spate of his gossip that Piero di Cosimo was afraid of lightning, the cause of the blaze in his Forest Fire. In spite of that, Piero recognised fire as a civilising force in the history of primitive mankind. Beasts fly from it but men use it. The Forest Fire is one of his ten dispersed panels which record the progress of early humanity. He may have picked up a crude notion of evolution from such classical sources as the Fifth Book of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura; hence, perhaps, the human faces of the stag and the brindled sow in The Forest Fire. According to Vasari, he delighted in wild creatures. Here he invented two of his own. Vasari's testimony is borne out by the large birds, some of them recognisable as herons, woodpeckers, pheasants and wood-pigeons, which hurl across many of Piero's skies. Man, half-bestial at first, as in The Battle between Lapiths and Centaurs in the London National Gallery, struggles from the light of physical fire into that of intellectual fire bestowed by Prometheus in the final panel of the series, now in the Strasbourg Musee des Beaux-Arts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Picture Galleries outside London: The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.