Spanning seven centuries from 1196 to 1868, this exhibition investigates one of the darker aspects of British history – public executions in the capital. London hosted more public executions than any other city in the country, and, as the centre of power, some of these were very high profile indeed. One of the most momentous executions was that of King Charles I in 1649; the vest he is said to have worn is on view.
Other items include the grim devices used – such as an axe made specifically for the execution of the leaders of the 1820 Cato Street conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister and other members of government, or the gibbet cages that were set up along the river and in which dead bodies (particularly of pirates) would hang, visible to all. Contrasting with these are objects associated with prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845).
As well as exploring the economic and cultural impact of executions, the displays highlight the very moving human side of these events. Poignant items of a personal nature include the final letters of those who were executed, and a remarkable, delicate bed sheet that is on display for the very first time since its acquisition by the Museum of London in 1934. Embroidered on it – in human hair – is the inscription: ‘The sheet OFF MY dear Lord’s Bed in the wretched Tower of London February 1716 x Ann C of Darwent=Waters+’. The ‘dear Lord’ whose bed it came from was James Radclyffe (a grandson of Charles II), who was beheaded in 1716 for treason for his involvement in the first Jacobite rebellion. His widow, Anna Maria Radclyffe, was permitted to care for his body after execution, and she embroidered this touching memento on the bedsheet, possibly with her own hair, her husband’s, or a combination of the two.
Museum of London Docklands
Until 16 April 2023
Byblos: The World’s Most Ancient Port
Leiden, The Netherlands
Located on the coast of what is today Lebanon, the city of Byblos has a long history as a prosperous seaport that attracted traders from across the ancient Mediterranean and the Middle East. It began as a fishing village around 6500 BC, but by around 3000 BC trade of the much-valued wood of the tall, straight cedar tree from the mountains near Byblos had helped it grow into an international port.
Egypt and Byblos had particularly close ties. As well as cedar wood and oil, silver and wine were traded to Egypt, while Byblos obtained gold, precious stones, linen, and ivory from Egypt, which they then sold on to Mesopotamian cities. A goddess known as the ‘Lady of Byblos’ (Baalat Gebal in Phoenician) may have held some affinity with Egyptians too, as she has been equated with Hathor or Isis. (Isis, incidentally, brought Osiris back to life at Byblos.)
Not just Egyptians, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans all left their mark on Byblos, as this exhibition, the fourth in a series at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden devoted to prominent cities of antiquity, shows. Around 500 artefacts (including loans from the National Museum in Beirut) demonstrate the cultural richness of Byblos, which is still being excavated. Recently unearthed finds from an elite burial complex investigated by the Lebanese Ministry of Culture/Directorate General of Antiquities and the Louvre will be on view, as well as artefacts from the city’s royal tombs. Some objects buried with the kings of Byblos bear the names of older Egyptian pharaohs.
Fishhooks and anchors bear witness to life by the water, while a writing tablet in the undeciphered ‘Byblos script’ evokes the administrative side of the port. Other finds showcase the wealth of many of Byblos’ residents and merchants, and the well-appointed surroundings they spent their time in. Golden weapons, fine jewellery, Roman mosaics, and some of the around 1,700 bronze figurines of warriors, gods, and animals found at Byblos paint a picture of a wealthy, cosmopolitan city.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden
Until 12 March 2023
The Lost King: Imagining Richard III
As The Lost King, a film portraying the discovery, identification, and reburial of King Richard III (1452-1485) is released in the UK, the Wallace Collection (whose curator Tobias Capwell served as a historical advisor on the film) takes a look at items in its collection that have shaped our image of the king. One key work is Paul Delaroche’s dark and tender painting, Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower (1831; shown below), depicting the two princes in the Tower of London before their alleged murder at the hands of Richard III. The Wallace Collection, home to an extensive collection of historic weapons and armour, has been involved with imagining the king on film before, when Laurence Olivier wore a copy of one of the museum’s 15th-century suits of armour in the 1955 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Continuing the relationship with cinema, the exhibition includes armour from the new film The Lost King.
Wallace Collection, London
Until 8 January 2023
Gathering light: a Bronze Age golden sun
With ray-like decoration evoking the sun, the glittering gold pendant that was discovered in Shropshire in 2018 highlights the importance of the solar body in the Bronze Age. The sun pendant is continuing its tour of the UK in this British Museum Spotlight Loan exhibition, joined by other artefacts that together showcase the skill of prehistoric goldworkers. Among them are: a gold lunula, a thin collar with a triangle pattern reminiscent of sun-rays; a gold plated ring found in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, decorated with a proliferation of impressed dots and incised lines (below); and the Towednack hoard discovered in 1931 in Cornwall, a major source of metal in the Bronze Age. The exhibition is the first time the hoard, which includes two torcs, four arm rings, and two unfinished gold bars, has been lent.
After its run at the Royal Cornwall Musuem, the exhibition will travel on to The Collection, Lincoln (11 November 2022 to 20 February 2023); Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (25 February to 3 June 2023); and Museum of the Isles, Stornoway (13 June to 16 September 2023).
Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro
Until 5 November 2022
Códice Maya de México
In the mid 1960s, a Maya codex appeared in a private collection in Mexico. Since it came to light in somewhat mysterious circumstances and was an unusual item, there were questions about whether or not it was a forgery. Through art historical and scientific analysis, scholars authenticated the book in 2018, concluding that it is the oldest of just four surviving books from the Maya world before the arrival of European conquistadores.
This exhibition – the first time the rarely displayed Códice Maya de México has been on view in the US in 50 years, on special loan from Mexico – tells the story of this research into the oldest surviving book in the Americas. The codex (page 8 of which is pictured left) records the movements of the planet Venus, calculated across 104 years, and would have been used as a guide for a spiritual leader. It opens a window onto Maya astronomy around AD 1100, when the book was painted on bark paper prepared with gesso by a single artist.
Getty Center, Los Angeles, California
Until 15 January 2023
The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England
The Tudor period was a tumultuous one in English history. Their reign began with Henry VII in 1485 after his victory in the Wars of the Roses, ended with the childless Elizabeth I in 1603, and, along the way, saw religious shifts and a break from the Catholic church, the threat of invasion from the Spanish Armada, beheaded queens, and treasonous plots. Amidst all this turmoil, arts flourished in Tudor England, and in its cosmopolitan royal courts a distinct English Renaissance style emerged, as the riches of paintings, sculpture, manuscripts, and armour in this exhibition show. As well as portraits enhancing the image of a glorious (and legitimate) reign, the displays include objects that build a picture of royal life in the Tudor palaces set against the backdrop of sumptuous tapestries and ornate plasterwork.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Until 8 January 2023
Ritual and Memory: The Ancient Balkans and Beyond
With more than 200 archaeological finds from across the Balkan region, this exhibition (organised in partnership with the Field Museum’s First Kings of Europe project) investigates the role of ritual in prehistoric societies from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Gold and amber jewellery, weapons, miniature architectural models, drinking vessels and more are used to reveal the worldview of the societies these items belonged to, and the connections between different communities. One fascinating find is a set of stylised ceramic female figurines (above). Discovered in Romania at what is thought to be the site of a sanctuary, these 21 small figurines were placed inside a vessel along with 13 model chairs nearly 7,000 years ago. Though similar in shape, there are clear differences between the figurines, suggesting they are different entities. Some researchers have posited they make up a council of goddesses, while others that they convey aspects of identity relating to a living community.
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York
Until 19 February 2023
Sargent and Spain
Over a period of some 30 years, artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) visited Spain on seven extended trips, and as his vast and varied visual output from these travels shows, the country offered much to engage his interests – from the work of Spanish painters at the Museo del Prado in Madrid to the dancers and musicians of Andalucía. Oil paintings filled with colour and light, watercolours, and drawings record Sargent’s time in Spain, where he depicted the natural landscape all around the country, as well as the built landscape, including royal palaces like the Alhambra and the Generalife. The exhibition also features some never-before-published photographs that may be by the artist himself, including a stereoscopic glass transparency of the Alhambra’s Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions), probably taken in 1912. Later, the exhibition will go on view at the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (11 February to 14 May 2023).
Running alongside Sargent and Spain is In the Library: photography and travel in Sargent’s Spain, an archival exhibition expanding on the subject of photography in 19th- and early-20th-century Spain.
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Until 2 January 2023
Alexandria: Past Futures
Archaeology and contemporary art combine in this exhibition that puts the spotlight on Alexandria as both an ancient and a modern city. Organised by Bozar, the Royal Museum of Mariemont, and Mucem as part of the international project Alexandria: (Re)activating Common Urban Imaginaries, the exhibition traces the long history of the Egyptian port city. Artefacts from the ancient city – from its founding by Alexander the Great in 331 BC to the rise of Christianity in the late 4th century AD – shed light on its role as a thriving centre of commerce where people of different cultures mingled, but also as a destination of learning with a famous library and scholars who influenced scientific knowledge and philosophy in the ancient world. The legacy of the ancient city is seen, for example, in a 16th-century manuscript by Muhammad ibn’Abdal-Rahim Al-Qaysi that illustrates the famous lighthouse of Alexandria (below).
The Byzantine and Arab-Islamic city is also represented, and contemporary works by 17 artists respond to the city today, expanding our view of Alexandria in the past and the present, as a place marked by its colonial history and under threat from ecological erosion.
After Bozar, the exhibition will travel on to Mucem, the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, in Marseilles (8 February to 8 May 2023).
Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels
Until 8 January 2023
Champollion: On the trail of hieroglyphics
Commemorating the bicentenary of the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, this exhibition explores the life and work of their decoder, Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), in the wider context of politics and European research and interactions with Egypt. As well as his work on the language, Champollion (shown in Auguste Bartholdi’s 1867 statue, above) studied collections and monuments in Turin, Bologna, Rome, and Naples, and became the first director of the new Egyptian museum opened by King Charles X at the Palais du Louvre, acquiring more artefacts for the collection. Ancient objects and documents shed light on his work (which, by dating Egyptian monuments, had the potential to throw the Christian church’s biblical chronology into disarray), while paintings reflect artists’ enduring interests in Egypt, as knowledge about the ancient subjects they depicted sharpened into focus.
Until 16 January 2023
Things: A history of still life
Historically featuring items like abundant displays of flowers, a variety of fleshy fruit, and even skulls that serve as a reminder of mortality, still life is a long-lived genre of art, and one that has often been considered somewhat minor. Following on from a 1952 Paris exhibition on still life, the Louvre offers a broad, updated look at the genre across time and space, from the food depicted on ancient Egyptian stelae and the variety of subjects rendered in Roman mosaics (for example, the memento mori with a skull, left) to the vase of flowers captured in one of Nan Goldin’s Covid-19 quarantine photographs in Brooklyn in 2020.
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Until 23 January 2023
Facing the Sun: The Celestial Body in the Arts
The influential late-19th-century art movement Impressionism owes its name to a painting of the sunrise by Claude Monet (Impression, soleil levant), by way of the critic Louis Leroy. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of this significant 1872 painting, the Musée Marmottan Monet is investigating how different artists over the centuries have represented the sun.
The power of the sun has been evoked in ancient Egyptian amulets, 16th-century alchemical treatises, and dazzling jewellery, and light effects have fascinated many painters. Myths and stories associated with this celestial body have also been depicted in the arts, such as the fatal fall of Icarus in Graeco-Roman mythology. One interesting example of mythological painting is Le lever du Soleil by Charles de La Fosse, depicting the god Apollo and his chariot bringing in the sunrise. This was painted for the apartments of the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV at Versailles, the king who established the Observatoire Astronomique de Paris in 1667.
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris Until 29 January 2023 marmottan.fr
Iroungou: From Shadow to Light
In 2018, excavations at the Iroungou Cave in Gabon uncovered a range of material pointing to what has been described as a hitherto unknown central African civilisation some 800 years ago. The work led by National Agency for National Parks (ANPN) archaeologist Richard Oslisly found human remains of at least 28 individuals that have been dated to the 14th century AD, animal teeth and bones, cowrie shells, leather, and 512 metal objects. A selection of the finds is going on display for the first time at the National Museum of Arts, Rites and Traditions of Gabon in an exhibition that introduces the Iroungou civilisation.
National Museum of Arts, Rites and Traditions of Gabon, Libreville
Until January 2023
New images in the age of Augustus: power and media in Ancient Rome
Augustus, Rome’s first emperor (r. 27 BC – AD 14), spread his image far and wide as a way to communicate his power. One example of the carefully cultivated imperial image is the head of Augustus of Prima Porta with civic crown (c.AD 40, shown above). Augustus used images to show the illustrious history of Rome, his role in transforming the city (by publicising important building projects like the Forum of Augustus), and the divine origins of his family. As this exhibition sets out to explore through coins, statues, frescoes, and ornate furniture, his reign saw a general boom in imagery. There were new marble quarries supplying copyists and new approaches to wall painting, architecture, and the decoration of everyday objects like tableware that reached a wide span of society.
Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg
Until 15 January 2023
Piranesi and the Modern
Inspired by the grandeur of ruins of ancient Rome, the Italian architect and printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) has in turn inspired and influenced literature, architecture, painting, cinema and photography in the 20th and 21st centuries. For the inaugural show in two exhibition rooms at the new National Museum in Oslo (which opened earlier this year), Piranesi and the Modern traces these influences; for instance, in the play with light and shadow of modernist photography. Piranesi’s intricate and often fantastical images, including the highly inventive ‘Imaginary Prisons’ series (depicting fictious, complex prisons), are paired with works by Pablo Picasso, models and collages by architect Rem Koolhaas, and the films of Sergei Eisenstein.
National Museum, Oslo
Until 8 January 2023
Giorgio Vasari’s Drawings: A Mythical Collection
Living and working in 16th-century Italy, Giorgio Vasari wrote an important work of art history, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. He was also an artist and a collector, acquiring a significant collection of drawings by Italian artists from the 14th to the late 16th century (including Giulio Romano, whose 1536 The Fall of Icarus is below). Vasari kept these drawings in an album and described them in detail in the second edition of his Lives, published in 1568. After he died in 1574, his descendants gifted the album to Francesco I de’ Medici. The drawings are today scattered in numerous collections. This exhibition, organised with the Louvre (where it was previously on view), presents the research into Vasari’s collection and that of Niccolò Gaddi, who was also collecting art in Florence at the time. Many of the mounts traditionally linked to Vasari may in fact be Gaddi’s.
National Museum, Stockholm
Until 8 January 2023