British Museum blog

Horse power day on Saturday 30 June


Laura Service, Education manager and
Rosie Jones, Events manager: Adult Programmes

On Saturday 30 June the Museum will be saddling up (yes, really) for Horse power day, an exciting day of free activities for all ages. Come and pat a real pony, dress up as a jockey for the photo booth, play pin the tail on the craft-y donkey and much more. Here’s a full list of everything happening on the day. Whilst here, take the opportunity to see the free exhibition The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot.

As event organisers, we want Horse power day to celebrate the links between the horse and popular culture, and the creative impetus that this amazing animal has given to artists across thousands of years. All of our meetings about the event have had a sense of fun, and we are hoping this will come through on the day!

A source of inspiration for the day was the wonderful painting, The Derby Day (1856-58), by William Powell Frith, on display in the exhibition. This painting captures the crowds at a nineteenth-century race day. It demonstrates the vibrant culture that sprang out of race days (not that many of the crowd in the painting are watching the race) and that’s something we’ve considered with the activities on Horse power day. Visitors will be able to make fascinators, a tribute to the popular focus on fashions on display at Ladies’ days at the races, and listen to popular music from the eighteenth and nineteenth century recreating the atmosphere of the first great Thoroughbred races at courses like Ascot and Epsom – including a song specially recreated for the event, not heard in its original version for 250 years, but which survives as a folk song even now!

An Arabian horse on the East Lawn of the British Museum

A particular challenge we’ve faced is bringing live horses onsite. We plan to host, weather permitting, a horse parade on the forecourt of the Museum. Mark Griffin (from Griffin Historical) will compere the parade, giving visitors an opportunity to learn about the attributes of different horses, and the roles they undertake according to their physical traits.

Colleagues across the Museum have contributed ideas for the day, and many will be taking part. Nigel Tallis, co-curator of the exhibition will be answering your questions about curating the exhibition, and about the horses he has been discovering whilst putting together the show as part of ‘ask the expert’.

Working on this event has shown us the huge respect and compassion that humans have for horses. Everyone involved has been excited about the opportunity to celebrate the horse, and that has really sparked our imaginations.

We hope you’ll be able to join us, and share our excitement, as we gallop around the Museum on the day!

Remember to share your day
Tweet using #horsepower and @britishmuseum
Tag your photos on Instagram and Flickr with #horsepower
‘Blinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Tweet us your best #horsefilm

 

Horse power day is on Saturday 30 June, 11.00–16.00. It is free, just drop in, some events may be ticketed on the day. Full programme for Horse power day.

The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot is free and open from 24 May to 30 September 2012.

The exhibition is supported by the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, the Layan Cultural Foundation and Juddmonte Farms. In association with the Saudi
Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

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Tracing racing history


Steve Slack, writer, British Museum

If you’re a fan of horses and horse-racing you may well have been following the action at Royal Ascot last week. The highlight of this year’s meet was the Diamond Jubilee Stakes – named after HM The Queen’s milestone which was marked earlier this month.

Her Majesty is also the royal patron of the British Museum’s current temporary exhibition The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot. As part of the 5,000 year story of the domesticated horse, the exhibition explains the origins of what we now know as the modern Thoroughbred racehorse and the role of the Arabian horse.

It’s a little known fact that all modern Thoroughbreds can trace their lineage back to just three prodigious stallions which were imported into Britain from the Middle East around 300 years ago: the Byerley Turk (1680s), the Darley Arabian (1704), and the Godolphin Arabian (1729).

The winning horse in Saturday’s race was Black Caviar, who can trace her ancestry back to the Darley Arabian. And if you’re interested in tracing the history of other Thoroughbreds, there’s a panel in the exhibition with some of the most famous race horses descended from the Darley Arabian.

Grand Stand Ascot (Gold Cup Day 1839). This shows the first grandstand built at Ascot, with a capacity of 3000, which opened in 1839. The etching also shows Queen Victoria in attendance. The horse Caravan, a descendent of the Darley Arabian via Eclipse, won the Gold Cup that year.

 

The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot is free and open from 24 May to 30 September 2012.

The exhibition is supported by the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, the Layan Cultural Foundation and Juddmonte Farms. In association with the Saudi
Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

Filed under: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot

Horses: by royal appointment


Nigel Tallis, Exhibition Curator, British Museum

Royal Jubilee weekend is here. You may well be tuning in to watch the royal regatta work its way down the River Thames, or even going to watch the festivities in person.

We’re thinking royally right now at the British Museum, as we celebrate the opening of our new exhibition The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot. Her Majesty the Queen is the royal patron of the exhibition, whose great knowledge of horses is well known, but horses have been important to royalty for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Think of the royal family and horses and you’ll think of carriages on the way to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, of champion race-winners and the Queen’s own racing colours of purple, scarlet and gold. Aspects of these are all included in the exhibition and we also feature stories of royalty and their fascination with horses through the millennia.

Here’s a wonderful portrait medal by Pisanello, one of the first of its kind, showing the Byzantine or East Roman, emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1392–1448) riding a horse befitting a medieval monarch – interestingly, it was given to the Museum by another royal, the British King George IV (1738–1820).

Medal showing the emperor John VIII Palaeologus on horseback

The Amarna letters from New Kingdom Egypt – a group of clay tablets written in Babylonian cuneiform – form a diplomatic archive of letters sent to the kings of Egypt from fellow rulers in the Middle East. They vividly reflect how the possession of chariots and horses was a key indicator of prestige and status at the time.

Crop from the Amarna Letters, letter from Burnaburiash II to Amenhotep II

But kings haven’t always used horses for peaceful means. This 15th century manuscript painting shows a fierce cavalry battle between two much earlier Sasanian kings, Khusrow II and Bahram VI.

Battle between Khusrow II and Bahram VI

And here’s a charming drawing by Rembrandt, probably inspired by a set of Mughal miniatures. It’s thought to show another royal, Shah Jahan (reigned 1627-1658) riding on horseback.

A Mughal nobleman on horseback by Rembrandt

Don’t forget: if the exhibition is too busy to get into, you can see the last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, riding on horseback and in a chariot, hunting lions in the famous reliefs which are the pinnacle of Assyrian art. They are on display in Room 17, throughout the exhibition’s run.

 

The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot is free and open from 24 May to 30 September 2012.

The exhibition is supported by the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, the Layan Cultural Foundation and Juddmonte Farms. In association with the Saudi
Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

Filed under: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot

Horses and human history


Nigel Tallis, Exhibition Curator, British Museum

For 5000 years the horse has been an ever-present ally in war and peace. Civilisations have risen and fallen on their backs and evidence of the horse’s use is everywhere to be seen. Yet somehow, following the increasing pace of mechanisation in the 1930s, we have so quickly forgotten how indebted we are to the domestication of this animal.

Before the development of the steam locomotive in the early 1800s, the only way to travel on land faster than human pace was by horse. Since travel is one of the defining features of human development, so the history of the horse is the history of civilisation itself.

The upcoming exhibition The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot (opening 24 May) explores how horses have helped to shape our history for thousands of years.

Oxus chariot model, Achaemenid Persian, 5th-4th century BC

Oxus chariot model, Achaemenid Persian, 5th-4th century BC

Horses were first domesticated in around 3500 BC, probably on the steppes of southern Russia and Kazakhstan, and introduced to the Ancient Near East in about 2300 BC. Before this time, people used donkeys as draught animals and beasts of burden. The adoption of the horse was one of the single most important discoveries for early human societies. Horses and other animals were used to pull wheeled vehicles, chariots, carts and wagons and horses were increasingly used for riding in the Near East from at least c. 2000 BC onwards.

Horses were used in war, in hunting and as a means of transport. They were animals of high prestige and importance and are widely represented in ancient art, often with great insight and empathy.

The exhibition looks at how and why Middle Eastern horses, especially Arabians, were especially sought after and introduced into Britain for selective breeding between the 17th and 18th centuries, and shows how the vast majority of modern Thoroughbred racehorses are descended from just three celebrity stallions.

Paintings, including famous works by George Stubbs and William Powell Frith, prints, silverware and memorabilia explore horses in British society, especially in recreation and competition, from race meetings through to modern Olympic equestrian events.

So, how indebted are we to the horse?

We hope that this exhibition will help remind us of the long and fruitful alliance between humans and horses.

 

The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot is free and open from 24 May to 30 September 2012.

The exhibition is supported by the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, the Layan Cultural Foundation and Juddmonte Farms. In association with the Saudi
Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

Filed under: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot

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This is Room 56, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Mesopotamia 6000–1500 BC. It's the next in our gallery series for #MuseumOfTheFuture. Between 6000 and 1550 BC, Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (now Iraq, north-east Syria and part of south-east Turkey) witnessed crucial advancements in the development of human civilisation during the evolution from small agricultural settlements to large cities.
Objects on display in Room 56 illustrate economic success based on agriculture, the invention of writing, developments in technology and artistry, and other achievements of the Sumerians, Akkadians and Babylonians, who lived in Mesopotamia at this time.
Objects found at the Royal Cemetery at Ur are of particular importance, and you can see the Royal Game of Ur in the foreground of this picture – the oldest board game in the world. Our next #MuseumOfTheFuture gallery space is Room 55, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Mesopotamia 1500–539 BC. The civilisations of Babylonia and Assyria flourished during the first millennium BC. Political developments resulted in the incorporation of the entire Near East into a single empire, while increased international contact and trade influenced the material culture of the region.
Room 55 traces the history of Babylonia under the Kassites and the growth of the Babylonian state and empire until it was taken over by the Persian King Cyrus in 539 BC.
'Boundary Stones' carved with images of kings and symbols of the gods record royal land grants. The development of the Assyrian state and empire, until its fall in 612 BC, is illustrated by objects excavated in its palaces. Mesopotamia’s highly developed literature and learning are demonstrated by clay tablets from the library of King Ashurbanipal (r. 668–631 BC) at Nineveh, written in cuneiform script. It's time for Room 54 in our #MuseumOfTheFuture gallery series – the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Anatolia and Urartu 7000–300 BC. Ancient Anatolia and Urartu form an important land link between Europe and Asia and lie where the modern Republic of Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and north-west Iran are located today. Objects in Room 54 show different cultures from prehistoric to Hellenistic times.
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