Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 12: Greenwich and Art

Mondy morning began with a walk down to the Thames, where our library group caught a commuter ferry down the river to Greenwich. Once there, we took in the cool morning air for a bit before heading into the National Maritime Museum for a tour of their library.

After our interesting tour, we were told the rest of the day was ours. A small group of other students and I perused some of the collections within the museum before heading up a hill... the Royal Observatory. Now also a part of the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory was first created at the commission of King Charles II. For a good long time, the observatory was home to the Astronomer Royal of the UK, a monarch-appointed position. It was also home to astronomical research until the technology of the trade necessitated a move elsewhere. Now at the observatory there are museum rooms dealing with astronomy and time-keeping, another science for which Greenwich is known (think Greenwich Mean Time).

Another thing for which Greenwich is known? Why, it so happens to be the location through which the Prime Meridian runs. While the location of the Prime Meridian is actually arbitrary (longitude lines are the same length anywhere on the globe, as opposed to latitude lines that have reference to the poles), by 1884 the majority of naval charts and maps marked the meridian through Greenwich as their reference point. From that wide use, there was a vote at the International Meridian Conference and a universal Prime Meridian was established. Now one of the main attractions at the meridian line is to photograph oneself standing in two hemispheres simultaneously.

From the observatory's hill, it was a much quicker jaunt down into town again, where our group stopped for lunch at a garden in a pub. Afterward we made our way back to the ferry docks, where we caught a commuter ferry back into Central London.

I took the opportunity of a free afternoon to go see some art. I spent a little while in the National Portrait Gallery, where I always enjoy the changing photography and portraiture exhibits on the ground floor. I also made my manditory visit up to the little likeness of Jane Austen done by her sister Cassandra. (I did not go see the Brontes.) I used the Gallery's database to see some portraits of Queen Victoria not on current display; what a useful resource!

I also meandered through the National Gallery for a bit. Most of my time in that art museum was spent in their temporary exhibit Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes, and Discoveries. The exhibit uses examples from the Gallery's own collections to discuss what is essentially forensic art analysis. Using such modern technologies as x-ray images, chemical analysis of paint chips, and other pretty complicated processes that I vaguely understood whilest reading about them but now cannot particularly recall, art analysts are able to determine with unprecedented accuracy what paintings are real, which are not, which are hiding something underneath their layers, etc. It was all very fascinating, and I encourage you to check out their online exhibit.

The rest of the evening shall be devoted to dinner, reading, and relaxing; should be a full Tuesday tomorrow!

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