British Museum blog

The legacy of a gruesome death

Shakespeare’s Restless World is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Today’s episode The Theatres of Cruelty considers spectacles of torture both on and off the stage.


Jan Graffius, Curator, Stonyhurst College

Relics like this one would be probably the most moving testament to the bravery of those priests who were working undercover in England. Although the contents are rather gruesome, it would have been a very beloved reminder of their faith and a powerful inspiration to the English Catholics to hold firm because men had given blood for their faith. It might even be an inspiration to young boys to follow in their footsteps and become priest themselves.

Relics served as a reminder of what was in front of you. For many priests, the crown of martyrdom was the ultimate sign of God’s favour. Jesuit priests who served in England and came back to Europe without having been caught often describe themselves as too unworthy to share the crown of martyrdom.

Martyrdom wasn’t something they sought but it was something that was a huge honour if it occurred to them. This small relic is a reminder of the brutality, the courage and also the rightness of the faith because if somebody is willing to lay down their life in the most horrible way, the most dreadful form of execution, they have to be absolutely certain that they are doing it for good, strong and true reasons.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is on BBC Radio 4
from 16 April to 11 May, at 13.45 and 19.45 weekdays.

Listen to today’s programme The Theatres of Cruelty

Find out more:

Stonyhurst College

Filed under: Shakespeare's Restless World, What's on

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The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born #onthisday in AD 121.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-80), who appears on the coin set in this ring, is best known for his philosophical work, The Meditations. Although he was the most powerful man in the Roman Empire, he dwelt on the emptiness of glory: 'Shall mere fame distract you? Look at the speed of total oblivion of all and the void of endless time on either side of us and the hollowness of applause... For the whole earth is but a point, and of this what a tiny corner is our dwelling-place, and how few and paltry are those who will praise you.' It is ironic that such sentiments as these have preserved his fame to this day.
#ancientRome #emperor #history #museum #BritishMuseum Good luck to all in the #LondonMarathon today! Be inspired by this Spartan running girl from 520-500 BC, which features in our exhibition #DefiningBeauty It’s World #PenguinDay! This handsome King Penguin on display in the Enlightenment Gallery is on loan from the @natural_history_museum
#penguin #museum #BritishMuseum Born #onthisday in 1599: Oliver Cromwell. Here’s a terracotta portrait bust from around 1759
#history #Cromwell #art #bust Greece lightning: this exquisite bronze depicts Zeus, chief of the Greek gods #FridayFigure

In ancient Greece, powerful, shape-shifting gods provided compelling subjects for artists. The famous sculptor Phidias created a gold and ivory statue of Zeus, ruler of the gods, that was over 13 metres high for his temple at Olympia. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it symbolised the awesome presence of the god at his sanctuary site. There was also drama to be found in the gods’ ability to change their form as a means of disguise. Zeus, ruler of the Olympian gods, could take animal form – he seduced Leda as a swan, carried away Europa as a bull and Ganymede as an eagle.

This bronze statuette splendidly represents the majesty of Zeus, ruler of the gods on Mount Olympus and lord of the sky. Zeus holds a sceptre and a thunderbolt, showing his control over gods and mortals, and his destructive power. Although just over 20cm high, this exquisite work appears to be a copy of a much grander statue that does not survive.

You can see this figure in our exhibition #DefiningBeauty, until 5 July 2015.
Bronze statuette of Zeus. Roman period, 1st–2nd century AD, said to be from Hungary.
#art #museum #exhibition #ancientGreece #Zeus #gods This beautiful watercolour of Tintern Abbey is by J M W Turner, thought to have been born #onthisday in 1755.

Even before he had entered the Royal Academy schools at the age of 14, Turner had worked as an architectural draughtsman. This training is evident in his fascination with the details of the famous ruins of this twelfth-century Cistercian Abbey in Monmouthshire, which he visited in 1792, and again in 1793. Tourists of the time were as much impressed by the way that nature had reclaimed the monument as by the scale and grandeur of the buildings. Turner's blue-green washes over the abbey's far wall blend stone and leaf together, and on the near arch the spiralling creepers seem to make the wind and light tangible. 
#art #artist #Turner #history #watercolour
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