A visit to The Ashmolean – the oldest university museum in the World, then to Keble College, to the Chapel –
– to stand before my favourite painting in the whole wide World – ‘The Light of the World’ by William Holman Hunt.
I was joined on the day, by old Oxonian – Professor Christopher Heywood – and my two lovely sons – Archie and Tom – or ‘The Oxford Party’ as the Professor referred to us collectively.
First portal on our agenda was The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology.
Together we enjoyed a long lunch in the rooftop restaurant before splitting into twos. While the ‘boys’ went for a recce around Oxford’s shops – I accompanied Yaffle to his research meeting ‘behind closed doors’ with one of the Ashmolean’s conservators – Mr. Jevon Thistlewood – such a wonderful, evocative name – so Ashmolean!
WOW! It was such an unexpected gift – a privilege – to have gone beyond the ‘no access’ doorway. Almost immediately – I was gobsmacked – (to use one of Yaffle’s Yorkshire expressions) because there resting on a laboratory bench I saw something undreamt; a magical pair of ancient antlers from ‘The Ark’ of the Tradescants.
I was riveted by them – by their form, their age and by the synchronicity of the situation; them ‘left out’ as I walked in! I was even given permission to photograph them – ‘only’ the antlers mind – strictly not the laboratory interior. Whilst keeping my distance – I zoomed in to capture the remarkable label on the skullcap…
“Ashmole’s Antlers” (as Yaffle refers to them) lifted me ever higher – I was on cloud nine for the rest of day – and that was before seeing ‘The Light of the World’!
After exiting the excitement and magic of the conservation lab – Yaffle and I made our way downstairs to the foyer area of the Museum. Here in the cool gallery – in the presence of Cicero – I left Yaffle to his own devices. To his Apple Mac – and his Spinoza article in progress…
I met up with my sons – and together we set-off for the Chapel. On the way – we enjoyed the dappled light of a huge Horse Chestnut situated in the ‘Lamb and Flag Passage’ – before continuing our purposeful march to Liddon Quad where the Chapel is. We passed under numerous gargoyles and lanterns too…
The Chapel is a place that everyone should discover for themselves – there are no words – no photos that can convey the visual impact of opening the mighty oak door and stepping inside the hallowed space of the main chapel. On a blisteringly hot day outside – the quietness, the coolness – and contrasting darkness inside were thirst quenching to my every sense.
Finally – in the sanctuary side-chapel – I stood before ‘The Light of the World’. Not intensified by internal and external light sources – the area of the painting that emanated the greatest luminosity appeared to me to be Christ’s chest. Allegory aside – ‘The Light of the World’ is a clever painting because it works – it glows from within. I’m so pleased that I had an opportunity to witness this manifestation for real.
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The last six words of this post go to the Tradescants (Elder and Younger) and to Elias Ashmole himself. I wish to acknowledge them in my own small way here – as an appreciation for their collecting mania – and therein – their vision that is the Ashmolean today; it is a treasure trove beyond compare.
I want to go back to the Ashmolean again and again and again – a day just isn’t enough. If I lived closer – I’d be through that grand portal every single day – except for Mondays (unless it’s a bank holiday)!
Thank you Thank you Thank you.