It’s lunchtime and after grabbing a new cycling top from the excellent Bespoke Cycling I saunter carefully down to Guildhall. I’ve gone past it a fair few times now but never looked at it. St Lawrence Jewry church looms ahead but that’s for another blog. This time my curiosity is piqued by the Guildhall Art Gallery. It appears there’s a Roman amphitheatre in its vaults, and artwork of the pre-Raphaelites in its galleries.
I push through the revolving door, a booted hop peering into my rucksack and then amble down a wide stone staircase, heading to the depths. This is the Roman amphitheatre. Anything historic, but particularly Roman, piques my delight…all those hours poring over texts and pictures for three years of an Ancient History degree were done for love, not money…anyway, this scant, metre wide, pockmark of walls was originally built around A.D70 (Vespasian with his links to Britannia – from a warmongering point of view – was Emperor), dug into the sands of Londinium, erected in a timber design. Likely about 100m by 85m. Clearly it was a great draw as it got expanded in the second century A.D. into the stone relics we can see now…it’s all a bit Ozymandias. Those in the know reckon it could have held 6000 spectators, about a quarter of Londinium’s populace. Then, like all things Roman Britannic, it got abandoned in the fourth century A.D.
There’s a small school group in one corner. A lot of giggling and (as usual) little interest in the history, more in the social media tools. One day, one of them might saunter back down here as an adult and recall a vague school trip. One never quite knows 😉
Here’s a couple of photos or more…
I go back upstairs…wanting to see the gallery. It’s not vast, but quality is the aim here. Two pictures grab my attention. The first is the epic “A Pythagorean School Invades by Sybarites”, painted by Michele Tedesco in 1887, presented to the Guildhall by Italian Ambassador Signor P Tornelli in 1894. If you look at it, kale lovers would heartily agree it is a fine composition.
The second is Rosetti’s “Ghirlandata”. Now, I, like most of my contemporaries, are well aware of this portrait, as the beacon for all pre-Raphaelite art and the precursor to the Aesthetic Movement, but I was unaware the original hung here.
Rosetti’s brother, Michael, stated that the painting was “to indicate, more or less, youth, beauty, and the faculty for art worthy of a celestial audience, all shadowed by mortal doom”. I stare at it, heavy in its golden frame. No one is with me. This is my lengthy two minutes. I immerse myself in it, study it intently. Right now, I am its only audience, it is painted for me, and me alone.
Oh…is it time to go back to the office? Pity.
If you’re in London, take a look at this place: small, but literal layers of history and quiet.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?