Monday, 29 October 2018

Anglo-Saxon

The other day I dropped in on the British Library – well, I say dropped in, as if this were an everyday event, but, to my shame, I haven't set foot in the place for years. I'd quite forgotten what a vast and beautifully designed space the entrance hall is, rising to the full height of the building, with the King's Library enclosed in a smoked-glass tower at its centre. And the whole thing is greatly enhanced by a huge, brightly coloured tapestry of Kitaj's great Waste Land-inspired painting, If Not Not.
 I was at the BL to see the current exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, which seems to be doing very good business. It was interesting, but not exactly thrilling, being understandably heavy on books and manuscripts, a few of them spectacular but the rest much of a muchness to the untrained eye.
Still, it was good to see the famous 'Alfred jewel' (normally resident in the Ashmolean) and study some fine specimens of illumination. And the Lichfield Angel, well lit and displayed, looked terrific. The historical information was well presented and told the story of Anglo-Saxon England concisely and efficiently. But the main effect of the exhibition was to send me back to Geoffrey Hill's great Mercian Hymns...

'King of the perennial holly-groves, the riven sandstone: overlord of the M5: architect of the historic rampart and ditch, the citadel at Tamworth, the summer hermitage in Holy Cross: guardian of the Welsh Bridge and the Iron Bridge: contractor to the desirable new estates: saltmaster: moneychanger: commissioner for oaths: martyrologist: the friend of Charlemagne....'

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