The Kunstkamera, St. Petersburg, Russia

Kunstkamera of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg

Kunstkamera of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg

In the first decades of the eighteenth century, to win a war with Sweden and present Russia as a modern European state, Tsar Peter the Great radically reformed the culture of Muscovite Russia. Besides introducing European dress (smock coats were in and beards were out) and European institutions (a government bureaucracy, a western-styled army and navy), Peter founded a new capital city, St. Petersburg, which was intended to be Russia’s “window on the west.” Peter also imported learned men from France, Switzerland and the Germanies to teach the Russians the new science. Completed in 1727, the Kunstkamera was built on Vasilevskii Island to the north of the city to house the Tsar’s new Imperial Academy of Sciences, which opened shortly after his death in 1725. Designed by Georg Johann Mattarnovy, the European building was baroque in style, and presented a radical contrast to the onion domes typical of Moscow and Russian tradition. The academicians housed inside were also intended to display Europeanness to the Muscovites. Early professors such as the French astronomer Joseph Delisle and Swiss mathematicians Daniel Bernoulli and Leonhard Euler made important contributions to a host of scientific, geographical and mathematical enterprises. But they also served local Russians as role models for appropriate behaviour in Peter’s new Russia. Russians should learn from the polite discourse which academicians were supposed to engage in during public meetings (in fact they argued a lot and had to be hidden from public view). After a precarious start, the Academy blossomed in the reign of Empress Catherine II and remained a profoundly influential center for Russian, and later Soviet science through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Today, the Kunstkamera, whose name is taken from the German Kunstkammer, or “cabinet of art” or curiosities, stands monumentally on the banks of the river Neva, and is home to an ethnographic and anthropological museum and an exhibition on the “first Russian scientist” Mikhail Vasil’evich Lomonosov. The bright blue and white painted façade is peeling and the building is time-worn, having seen numerous episodes of decline and restoration in its three-hundred year history. In its original form, the Kunstkamera was a remarkable scientific building, composed of extensive natural history collections housed in the west wing and a very fine library in the east. The central tower included an anatomy theatre, an elegant meeting room for the academicians, and Delisle’s multi-tiered astronomical observatory. Grand public dissections of elephants and other large fauna took place before fascinated audiences inside the anatomy theatre. The space of the anatomy theatre now houses various objects from Peter the Great’s peculiar collections, including teeth drawn by the Tsar himself and the famous monstrous births preserved and decorated by the Dutch anatomist Friedrich Ruysch. Originally intended to stand as momento mori and persuade superstitious Muscovites of the natural causes behind human deformities, the Ruysch exhibits now equally astonish and disconcert tourists and visitors who still come from far and wide to see them. The Kunstkamera is also home to some ageing but fascinating anthropological exhibits. Dummies dressed in ethnic costumes stand in the galleries above the anatomy theatre and look down on Peter’s monsters. Cabinets filled with costumes and utensils of nations from around the world populate a long series of dimly-lit halls. In a city focused on Europe these exhibits remind you of the incredible diversity of peoples and cultures which make up the Eurasian continent. Above the anatomy theatre, in the observatory, you can glimpse another world in one of Peter’s wonders, the Great Globe of Gottorp, a three-meter wide celestial globe, originally given to Peter as a present in 1717. It’s so big that Peter used to entertain diplomats and guests inside it, seating them on a circular bench around a table, as the heavens turned about their heads. Burnt in a fire and restored by the Soviets, the globe still impresses. Finally, in the heart of the Kunstkamera lies the Lomonosov museum, established in 1949 and dedicated to the first Russian to practice modern science, as professor of chemistry at the Academy of Sciences from 1745 until his death twenty years later. Lomonosov has long been eulogized for his great learning in Russia. Pushkin said “He founded our first university. To put it better, he was our first university.” The Soviets adored Lomonosov as the founder of science in Russia, without which scientific Marxism could not have flourished. The museum exhibits include a variety of instruments and artifacts from Lomonosov’s scientific career. The Kunstkamera, then, is a museum that literally encompasses the world. It’s a fascinating blend of old and new, of east and west, of opulence and decay. And it’s the perfect place to begin appreciating the diversity of roles that science has played in Russia’s remarkable history.

Further Reading

Oleg Neverov, ‘‘His Majesty’s Cabinet’ and Peter I’s Kuntskammer.’ in The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe. eds. Oliver Impey and Arthur MacGregor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985): 54-61.

Robert Collis, ‪The Petrine Instauration: Religion, Esotericism and Science at the Court of Peter the Great, 1689-1725 (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

Details

Address: 3, University Embankment (Universitetskaia naberezhnaia 3), Vasilevskii Island, 199034 Saint Petersburg, Russia

Website: http://www.kunstkamera.ru/en/

Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham

Bowes Museum

Bowes Museum, by Alden Chadwick. Image licensed via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The Bowes Museum is the former home of John and Josephine Bowes, avid collectors of European art in the late 19th century. The building, grounds and collections are themselves worth a visit, but the draw for a historian of science and technology is the Silver Swan, an automaton the Bowes’ purchased in France in 1872. It was built by English inventor John Joseph Merlin in the late 18th century, and first recorded as an attraction at the London Mechanical Museum of James Cox.

Silver Swan at Bowes Museum

Silver Swan at Bowes Museum, by Glen Bowman. Image licensed via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Every afternoon a curator inserts a key in the stand below the glass box where the swan sits in a nest of silver leaves; its repertoire of motions takes about 40 seconds. The swan arches its neck, peers around, and preens itself, then bends toward the water in front of it, simulated by rotating glass rods, to snatch a fish; it lifts its head with the fish, then cranes its neck to swallow it.

Unfortunately because the swan is kept in a glass box higher than (at least my) eye level, it’s difficult to get a close look at the water and the fish, which is a shame as part of the automaton’s motions include the small silver fish darting away as the swan’s beak breaks the water,. The museum has, however, developed an excellent and detailed exhibit on the history and working of the mechanism, after an extensive restoration project in 2008. This exhibit includes a great deal of technical information on how the mechanism was constructed and how it works, how it had been mistakenly restored earlier in its history, and the work involved in its 21st century restoration.

A close up of the head of the Silver Swan

A close up of the head of the Silver Swan, by David Robson. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Address: Bowes Museum Newgate Barnard Castle County Durham DL12 8NP
Website: http://www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk/

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Neuchâtel, Switzerland

The mechanism of the writing boy automaton

The mechanism of the writing boy automaton

Close by the Horological Museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds is the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Neuchâtel. This museum holds an outstanding collection of 18th and 19th century machines, including three automata constructed by theologian, mathematician and watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and their colleague Jean-Frédéric Leschot in the early 1770s. These machines were exhibited all over Europe when they were first built and in the 19th century. In 2009, to celebrate their 100th year at the museum, the Musée d’art et d’histoire undertook a three year restoration project including analysis of the machines (to determine which parts were original and which had been repaired or replaced) and a systematic investigation of archive material for the first time in at least 60 years. Last year the museum hosted a symposium and exhibition, ‘Automates & Merveilles’, highlighting the restoration and research findings.

Piano-playing female automaton

Piano-playing female automaton

The Jaquet-Droz automata are two small boys sitting on four legged stools, one writing and one drawing, and a girl who plays a pipe organ. During my visit in 2009 I found the girl the most compelling and lifelike; unlike the boys, her body and head move independently of her task, and she can sit and breathe and fidget (her chest slightly rising and falling, and her head and neck making almost imperceptible movements) for an hour. Though she has no eyelids, and only her head, forearms and hands move as she plays, I found the way she looks at the keyboard eerily realistic.

Details of the piano-playing female automaton

Details of the piano-playing female automaton

The drawing boy, the simplest of the three mechanisms, uses a pencil to draw four images – King Louis, portraits of a king and queen, Cupid driving a chariot pulled by a butterfly, and a little dog with the words ‘mon toutou’. The writing boy draws the most interest from historians of science and technology, as he is often considered an early example of ‘programming’—but this is misleading, as he is no more ‘programmable’ than a printing press, which he effectively is at one remove. A wheel in his back moves cams that activate 40 different arm movements—tracing letters, making spaces on the paper, and getting more ink from the inkwell. He can write up to four preset lines on a piece of paper the size of an index card, though the mechanism is so delicate the lines have not been reprogrammed since François Mitterrand’s visit to the city.

The automata are operated three times on the first Sunday of every month, and the small theatre in which they perform is always full—21st century audiences watch with as much delight and amazement as people of two centuries ago. Private viewing sessions for small groups can also be arranged.

Address: Musée d’art et d’histoire Esplanade Leopold-Robert 1 2000 Neuchâtel
Website: http://www.mahn.ch/

Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, Northern Ireland

Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum

The 17th-century Market House, with 19th and 20th century additions.
© Copyright ILC&LM.

The Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum (ILC & LM) researches, preserves and interprets all aspects of the history of the Irish linen industry, Lisburn and the surrounding area.

The Assembley Room, Lisburn.

Fine Irish damask on display in the Assembly Room, Lisburn.
© Copyright ILC&LM.

The Museum and its collections are housed in the old Market House, an late seventeenth-century building, since heavily modified. The town’s merchants sold their wares and produce and sought shelter in and around the ground floor of the building, and John Wesley preached here in 1756 and 1789.  The first floor Assembly Rooms played an important role in the social and political life of Lisburn, hosting regular soirees, balls, dance classes and political meetings throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Lisburn Ground Plotte

The 17th-century ground plot for Lisnagarvey (Lisburn).
© Copyright ILC&LM.

The surrounding Market Place was first laid out in Sir Fulke Conway’s plan of the town in the 1620s, and was the later site of the city’s bustling linen market. Here weavers sold vast quantities of brown, unbleached, linen. William of Orange, on his way to the Boyne, ‘took refreshments’ in Market Place in 1690, while United Irishmen swung from gallows erected here following the unsuccessful rebellion of 1798. At an entry just off nearby Castle Street, James Wallace installed Ireland’s first steam engine, from Watt’s factory in Glasgow, in 1790.

From the museum it is only a short walk to Castle Gardens. Although the original castle is no longer standing, part of the walls and the impressive seventeenth-century terrace, including the gazebo and bakery, remain. The Gardens contain a monument to Sir Richard Wallace, local MP, landowner and successor to the Conway’s, whose collection of art and that of his father’s, the 4th Marquess of Hertford, largely makes up the Wallace Collection.

Island Spinning Company

Poster for the Island Spinning Co., Lisburn.
© Copyright ILC&LM.

Castle Gardens affords a panoramic view of much of Lisburn  and the wider Lagan Valley, and it is possible to pick out remnants of the region’s industrial past. Just east of the Gardens, for example, lies the former site of the Vitriol chemical works (c.1760-c.1840) and later the Island Spinning Company Ltd (1867-1983), responsible for flax spinning and thread making.  The island, bounded by the River Lagan in the north and the canal in the south, is now occupied by Lisburn City Council, but the lock, through which over 180, 000 tons of linen, coal and dry goods travelled every year, remains.

Coulson's Factory

Coulson’s factory, Linenhall Street.
© Copyright ILC&LM.

Nearby, also, is the site of the iconic Coulson’s factory. From 1766 up until the 1960s the company, housed in a distinctive thatched building, produced fine damask linen, which was exported internationally. Coulson’s received Royal patronage in 1811, and a gold medal for their linen napkins and tablecloths at the Great Exhibition, Crystal Palace (1851).

Hilden Mill

The Barbour’s Hilden Mill today.
© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

South east of Castle Gardens, and just over a mile east of the Island, is the site of the Hilden mill complex, at one stage the world’s largest linen thread mill.  Owned and operated by the Barbour family, in some form, from 1842 to the 1960s, the complex is a patchwork of workshops for spinning and the production of linen thread. The Barbour family, in the tradition of many nineteenth-century industrialists, built a model village, consisting of housing, a school and a community hall, to support their workforce.  Although abandoned, the mill is still standing, and provides a glimpse back into the Lagan Valley’s industrial past. A short distance away is Glenmore bleach green. In constant use from the eighteenth century, the green was used to treat – through the use of sulphuric acid, and an extended drying period in the sun – the brown, untreated, linen. In 1887 the site at Glenmore, under the ownership of Richardson, Sons & Owden turned out over 300,000 linen webs.

Glenmore Bleech Green

Drying linen at Glenmore Bleech Green.  Image in the public domain.

Lisburn's Flax to Fabric

‘Flax to Fabric’: A weaver’s cottage.
© Copyright ILC&LM.

A thorough overview of the Barbour family, a sample of  Coulson’s damask linen, or indeed the broader history of the linen industry in the Lagan Valley, is provided at the ILC & LM’s permanent ‘Flax to Fabric’ exhibition. Visitors are guided through the history of linen and its manufacturer, from its use in Egyptian burial rites, its biblical significance – fine linen is mentioned in Genesis – right through to its cultivation in Europe in the Middle Ages. The Irish linen industry developed under various political and technological pressures, and the influence of English landlords, Dutch spinning techniques, Quaker labour and Huguenot self-promotion, is outlined in the exhibition. A recreated 18th-century cottage scene gives visitors a sense of the lives of workers in Ulster’s domestic linen industry before industrialisation. The entire family was involved in the process. Women spun the flax into yarn – visitors can try this for themselves – while children wound it onto bobbins. Weaving was left to the men, and usually took place in a separate part of the cottage. The ILC & LM have a workshop dedicated to weaving, with a full-time staff operating a series of looms, including two Jacquard looms. Jacquard’s design was revolutionary, significantly speeding up the weaving process, and his innovative use of punched cards to control individual threads of the warp allowed complex damask patterns to be wove. His invention was an important influence on Charles Babbage, and the Jacquard system is viewed as a ‘first-step’ towards the development of the modern computer. Demonstrations are given daily.

Jacquard LOom

Jacquard Looms in the weaving workshop. Note the mechanism for reading the punched card on top.
© Copyright ILC&LM.

Sybil Connolly

An original Sybil Connolly creation.
© Copyright ILC&LM.

The linen industry played an important role in the geographical, social and industrial heritage of Ulster, and this is explored through presentations of The Wee Blue Blossom, a 1930’s film examining the traditional harvesting and spinning of flax, and The Irish Interlude (1955), a nostalgic look at industrial-life in post-War Belfast. Irish linen was sold worldwide, and the Museum houses a collection of some of the finest samples, including a piece of intricate damask woven at Coulson’s to commemorate Queen Victoria and Albert’s 1849 visit to Belfast, as well as fine embroidered muslin from the prestigious Belfast retailers Robinson & Cleaver. The work of Sybil Connolly, once Ireland’s leading clothes designer, is also celebrated in a display that shows off a number of her linen creations. Her work was worn by the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and Liz Taylor.

The Market House gallery hosts regular displays and exhibitions on local history, from the Titanic to ‘17th-century Lisburn’, or even highlights from the Museum’s collections in the ‘Curator’s Choice’. The ILC & LM has a dedicated library and research service, and its education officers run a range of free workshops for school groups, colleges and community organisations.

Visitor information:

The museum is open 9-5pm Monday to Saturday, and admission is free. Group tours of the museum and Castle Gardens can be arranged.  The Museum shop sells a wide range of linen and craft goods, as well as books on the history of the industry and the Lisburn area.

For more information visit: http://www.lisburncity.gov.uk/irish-linen-centre-and-lisburn-museum/

Further reading:

Collins, Brenda (1994) Flax to Fabric: the Story of Irish Linen. Lisburn: Lisburn Borough Council.

Mackey, Brian (2000) Lisburn: the Town and its People 1873-1973. Belfast: Blackstaff.

McCutcheon, William (1984). The industrial archaeology of Northern Ireland. Antrim: Greystone Press.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Eastern State Penitentiary, 1829-1971

After the last prisoners left Eastern State Penitentiary in 1971, the cats moved in. In the early years after its closure the complex was used as storage by the city of Philadelphia, but as the prison walls cracked and crumbled around them, eventually the stray cats became its primary residents.

Eastern State Penitentiary Main Entrance

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Sebastian Weigand and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Yet when it opened almost a century and a half earlier in 1829, Eastern State was billed as one of the largest and most expensive buildings of its time. Built at the top of a hill overlooking Philadelphia, the penitentiary was designed to look from the outside like a European castle. The turreted watch towers and arrow slits, however, were just for show — the original towers were never tall enough for a man to stand in, and the arrow slits don’t extend all of the way through the walls. The immediate work of the penitentiary was performed by its more modern technologies.

The State Penitentiary for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lithograph by P.S: Duval and Co., 1855

The State Penitentiary for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lithograph by P.S: Duval and Co., 1855. Photo by Mike Graham and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Eastern State was designed by John Haviland (the architect of a number of Pennsylvania civic institutions, asylums, hospitals, and jails) as a radial “hub-and-spoke,” with cell blocks fanning out from a central point. In theory, this design allowed a single person standing at the central point to see any activity occurring on the blocks. Each cell was planned to house only one inmate — this was the basis of the famous “Pennsylvania System” of solitary confinement, designed for Eastern State by prison activists and reformers. These reformers believed that the hours spent alone in their cells would provide inmates with the opportunity for contemplation and penance, and the isolation and surveillance provided by the building’s architecture would structurally enforce this penance.

Cells at the penitentiary were themselves technologically advanced for the time; tour guides love telling shocked visitors that penitents had access to a centralized heating system and indoor plumbing before those luxuries were available at the White House. But even these technologies, which today we view merely as modern conveniences, were seen by reformers as part of the technology of control and reform. Having private toilets and sinks in each cell enabled a more total solitary confinement, eliminating reasons for prisoners to leave them. What prison designers didn’t count on, however, was the way that the users of these technologies would alter their meaning — quite quickly, prisoners realized that they could use the pipes in their cells to communicate with each other, tapping out messages that would echo through the walls.

Reopening Eastern State as a Historic Site

By the late twentieth century, Eastern State’s outer walls had become enclosed on all sides by Philadelphia’s expanding population, and many of its internal structures were collapsing. At the time the prison closed, the Pennsylvania System had long been abandoned; in the twentieth century the prison population expanded too rapidly for prisoners to continue occupying solitary cells, and even earlier additional cell blocks were constructed that destroyed the radial surveillance plan. What remained at the end of its life as a prison was a more complicated — and more crowded — complex than originally intended.

Eastern State languished for decades as plans for its future use occasionally cropped up and then disappeared. It was saved from demolition by its designation as a National Historic Landmark (as well as the massive cost of tearing down those iconic stone walls), and eventually a task force proposed a plan to preserve and reopen Eastern State as a historic site. Rather than take on the enormous project of restoring Eastern State to some chosen point in its history, organizers decided on a more dynamic version of historic preservation and public education: a model of “preserved ruin.”

Preserving the site as a ruin serves both practical and pedagogical functions. Not only did it save the impossible expense of a complete renovation, but it has allowed visitors to imagine its history at multiple chronological points. Tour guides and signs describe century-spanning events: walking visitors through the first prisoner admittance in 1829; describing its international reputation and status as a nineteenth-century tourist attraction; recounting Al Capone’s sensational tenure as an inmate between 1929 and 1930; and pointing out locations used in movie shoots in the 1990s. Furthermore, it recognizes the power of the ruin itself to tell its historical narrative. As the Historic Structures Report describes,

The building complex remains supremely expressive, focusing attention on its central meanings dramatically, and as inescapably as it once confined its residents…it demonstrates the power of architecture as a socially ordering mechanism as almost no other building can; rarely is the public so aware of the penal policies that have been devised on its behalf…one vividly encounters issues specific to its past: the role of philanthropic action; the sequence of accommodations to other tides in Pennsylvania’s penal history, the evidence of emerging advances in building systems over time…insights into Philadelphia’s urban growth and diversification, into the changing state of medical knowledge, theories of social dysfunction, the treatment of minorities, and ultimately into human nature as exemplified in these populations under control and stress.

“Prisons make awkward landmarks”

Cabinet from "Specimens" Exhibition

Cabinet from “Specimens” Exhibition, which highlights and expands upon the amateur entomology collection of an inmate. Photo by Deanna Day.

As Herbert Muschamp observed, “prisons make awkward landmarks.” While other historic Philadelphia sites have more obvious narratives that they embody (such as freedom and self-governance at Independence Hall) Eastern State finds itself contending with far more troubling questions about the ways society deals with transgressors, how we engineer technologies to act on our bodies, and how we enable — and resist — certain kinds of expertise and power.

One of the ways that Eastern State tackles these questions is with a continuous series of art installations. By inviting contemporary artists to comment on what they find evocative about the prison, Eastern State encourages historical, political, and personal engagement from artists and visitors alike. Julie Courtney and Todd Gilens co-curated the exhibition “Prison Sentences: The Prison as Site/The Prison as Subject,” asking, “How are objects, places, and stories imbued with history? What is the relationship between imagination, human experience, and the objective world… Our working hypothesis for this project is that artworks make connections that are both objectively valid and emotionally resonant.”

Ghost Cat

Ghost Cat. Photo by Flickr user e_monk and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

One of Eastern State’s longest-running installations is a tribute to those emotionally resonant creatures who colonized Eastern State in the absence of other inhabitants. Amid the wild growth that took over the site, a colony of feral cats made Eastern State their home between 1971 and 1991. They were looked after by Philadelphia city caretaker Dan McCloud, who visited and fed the animals three times a week for nearly thirty years. McCloud and his cats were memorialized by Linda Brenner’s “Ghost Cats” exhibition, for which she placed 39 sculptures throughout the cell blocks and grounds. Designed to crumble away over time, as buildings and memories do, the ghost cats were a reminder of the necessity of intervention; neither cat colonies nor castles survive without someone’s choice to maintain or remember them.

Brenner described her exhibition as “a testimony to survival.” The last ghost cat faded away in 2011.

Location: 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA
Website: easternstate.org
Don’t Miss: “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Al Capone’s jail cell; a series of History Exhibits and Artist Installations
Events: Bastille Day; The Searchlight Series; “Terror Behind the Walls”
Further Reading:
Eastern State Penitentiary Learning Resources
Julie Courtney and Todd Gilens (ed.), Prison sentences: the prison as site, the prison as subject, Philadelphia: Moore College of Art and Design, 1995.
Charles Dickens, American Notes, New York: The Modern Library, 1996.
Norman Johnston (ed.), Eastern State Penitentiary: Crucible of Good Intentions, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1994
Marianna Thomas (ed.), “Eastern State Penitentiary: Historic Structures Report,” Philadelphia: Philadelphia Historical Commission, 2 vol., 1994.

The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

Albert C Barnes (1874-1951), chemist and art collector

Albert C Barnes (1874-1951), chemist and art collector. Image available in the public domain.

The Barnes Foundation was established in 1922 by Albert C Barnes (1872-1951), an eccentric chemist whose successful development of an anti-venereal disease drug made him a fortune. With this he acquired ethnographic art and paintings, particularly of the French impressionist and post-impressionist schools, and early modern art. He had a purpose-built gallery constructed, designed by Paul Philippe Cret, and it included highly original decoration including cubist bas-reliefs by Jacques Lipchitz. In this he displayed the ethnography alongside the fine art, understanding well how African artefacts had influenced many of the artists whose work he collected. His remarkably rich collection includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes (‘The Card Players’ is particularly well-known), 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, etc.

Barnes was constantly at war with the Philadelphia establishment whom he despised and his gallery had been deliberately constructed in an unfashionable suburb of the city, Merion, away from the centre. Control was in the hands of Lincoln University, an establishment for black students. In the 1990s, the Barnes Foundation ran into financial difficulties and, in violation of Barnes’ will, controversial plans were devised by the city to transfer the collection much closer to the centre of Philadelphia. The legal challenge against the move was ultimately unsuccessful and the collection will now move into a new, and probably largely sympathetic, building near to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum and a number of other cultural institutions lined along the Ben Franklin Parkway. It will open in May 2012. The original building will remain accessible to the extent that it will retain a horticulture programme associated with Barnes’ arboretum, and will house the Foundation’s archives.

A strongly critical, polemical, film about background to the proposed move, ‘The Art of the Steal’, was made in 2009; it is well worth watching.

Website: http://www.barnesfoundation.org
Address: The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
Telephone: (001) 215-640-0171

Granada, Spain

The Alhambra, Granada - Spain

The Alhambra, Granada - Spain, by kevinpoh. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Cordoba was taken by the Christians in 1236, but Granada remained in Moorish hands until 1492, a refuge for artists and others who had been driven out of Cordoba, Seville, and elsewhere. Granada contains the most brilliant of all the products of Moorish architecture, the elaborate, intricately decorated Alhambra, with its gardens, courtyards, galleries, and statues-one of the artistic wonders of Europe. At one time Granada also had an acclaimed medical center and, at the time of the great plague, emissaries came here from all over Europe to consult (unsuccessfully) with local physicians. Where was the former medical center and have any of its buildings survived? There are no plaques or signs to tell us.

Toledo, Spain

Toledo Cathedra

Toledo Cathedral, by shiladsen. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Toledo stands in a loop of the Tagus (Tajo) River, on a site of unsurpassed beauty. An unforgettable view of the town, with brilliant blue Castilian sky in the background, is obtained from the Parador Conde de Orgaz, a state-owned hotel on the steep hills of the southern river bank. Toledo was “liberated” by Christian forces at an early stage of the wars to wrest control from the Muslims, even earlier than Cordoba, but its Castilian rulers were first tolerant and encouraged intermingling of the races, so that Moorish traditions of education and culture continued for some time. In the twelfth century Toledo was probably the most important Jewish town in all of Europe; Rabbi ben Ezra lived here during that period. In fact, the realization that there used to be close intermin- gling of Jewish and Islamic intellectuals is an important lesson to be learned from a visit here-the beautiful El Transito synagogue, built in the fourteenth century, has been recently restored. Nearby is the El Greco museum, commemorating the great artist from Crete who came to live and paint in Toledo at the invitation of Philip 11 in 1585. Many of his paintings may be seen in a gallery in Toledo’s cathedral.

Altamira Cave near Santillana del Mar, Spain

Reproduction of Altamira cave painting

Reproduction of Altamira cave painting by A.M. Kuchling. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Altamira Cave, about 1.3 miles (2 km) from the Cantabrian village of Santillana del Mar, lies in tranquil, rolling country, quite different from the cave art area in the Dordogne, where the caves are set in steep limestone cliffs. The paintings in the cave date from about 15,000 to 12,000 B.C. The spectacular ceiling frescoes show remarkably realistic full-color representations of bison in various poses (asleep, running, and so forth), wild boar, primitive horses, and reindeer. They provide excellent examples of the three-dimensional effect achieved by taking advantage of undulations in the rock surface. Access to the cave is through a visitor center and, unfortunately, conservation measures require that only a handful of people can be admitted each day, the precise number depending on outside humidity and temperature. Even with this restriction there are signs of some surface deterioration, so that, to be realistic, one must be prepared for the possibility that the cave may some day be closed to the public altogether. At the present time appointments for viewing must be made in writing at least six months in advance. Coming without reservation one can camp on the doorstep, hoping that some visitors with permission will not show up, in which case one may be admitted if the guards are in a charitable mood.

If one succeeds in getting in, then the caves will be found to be an unforgettable sight, a humbling experience in a way for those who vaguely think of artistic creation as something that began in Italy in the Renaissance. The Altamira caves are more spacious than the caves built into the cliffs in the Dordogne area in France and the size of each viewing group is limited to only five people, which makes for a more relaxed visit and greater opportunity to examine the pictures in detail.

For those who fail to be admitted, there is a museum and a videotaped film. The latter is badly produced and cannot be recommended as a substitute for the real thing. We  recommend instead the realistic reproduction of the Altamira ceiling which can be seen at the Le Thot Center of Prehistory in the Dordogne, as part of a visit to the cave art in that area. There is also a reproduction of the Altamira ceiling in the Museo Arqueologico Nacional in Madrid-we have not seen it and therefore cannot comment on it.

It should be noted that Santillana del Mar itself is an extraordinary little place, well worth a visit. It has cobbled streets, old village houses still shared by the owners with their livestock, churches, fountains, and so on, all astonishingly well preserved from Santillana’s fifteenth-century heyday.

Campus Arboretum, Exeter, England

View from Devonshire House over Streatham Farm, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter

View from Devonshire House over Streatham Farm, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, by Pierre Terre. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The University of Exeter Streatham Campus can boast to be one of the most beautiful of the country, set as it is within an arboretum, ponds and gardens. Twenty five sculptures are situated in this unique background, both in the open and in university buildings. They include sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Paul Mount, amongst other well-known and lesser known artists and students. It is possible to take a self-guided walk through the campus and the sculpture trail.

The arboretum has its origins in the 1860s, when the grounds surrounding Reed (then called Streatham) Hall was laid out by the Veicht family, famous for running plant nurseries in Europe in the 19th century. Their business was split between two places, Chelsea and Exeter, which became the main bases for this family of plant hunters, collectors and nurserymen. They employed plant hunters such as Lobb brothers and E.H. Wilson to collect and plant an ambitious arboretum on the Streatham estate.

Autumn colour, Streatham Campus

Autumn colour, Streatham Campus, by Derek Harper. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The University of Exeter traces its origins to schools and colleges established in the middle of the 19th century, but it is only in 1955 that it was officially founded. Gradually, through a period of fifty years, the University transferred its city centre sites to the Streatham campus, which had remained until then a farm and an estate.

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw a major re-landscaping of the main campus, but always with the aim of maintaining the diversity and exotic plants which had initially been brought in by the Veichtes. In the 1980s and 1990s, the botanical collection was extended.

Today, a great effort is made in terms of biodiversity throughout the campus grounds. Birds and bat boxes are being installed, and a ‘bioblitz’, or quick census of species, was conducted in 2010 by staff and students in the area between the Laver Building and the Business School.

Tiananmen Square Sculpture, University of Exeter

Tiananmen Square Sculpture, University of Exeter, by Pierre Terre. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. A striking sculpture commemorating the events of June 1989, erected overnight by anonymous students. Now part of a sculpture trail including works by Hepworth, Moore and others.

Species such as a kingfisher, a snipe and bumblebees were spotted, an indication of the potential rich biodiversity of the campus, and an incitement to further develop plans to enhance and protect this natural and man-made environment. In order to do so, staff working on the grounds and gardens cater for wildlife by leaving log piles, creating wild flower meadows and leaving areas of grass uncut to allow animals to move around safely.

 

The University grounds are open to staff, students and visitors all year around and can be visited freely. Fixed date seasonal tours are available, which last an hour and a half. If the dates are not suitable, bespoke tours can also be arranged for a minimum of 10 guests. To find out more and to make a booking please consult www.exeter.ac.uk/eventexeter/garden-tours.php, email eventsteam@exeter.ac.uk or phone 01392 215566.

Virtual tours are also available online and leaflets on request.