Friday, January 28, 2011

Art History Expedition

Last week the Form V and VI visted the National Museum and Newgrange as part of their History of Art studies. Tyrone Langham from Form V has written the following review;

We were then shown some stone and amber beads and ritual jewellery that were incredibly well crafted. One that particularly stood out to me was the head of a hammer that was made from a rare flint that ranged in colour form orange to grey. It was so smooth that our tour guide said it would have taken at least sixty years to rub and polish by hand to make it what it is today. She also said that the average life expectancy was only around forty years so it would have been handed down generations and used in all kinds of rituals and sacrifices to their pagan gods.

After this we moved on in time to the use of metals such as gold and bronze, we were shown a number of artefacts such as gold torcs and brooches. These, like the hammer would have taken considerable time and precision to craft. The process of making a gold torc for example would start at the edge of a river where someone would sieve gold from the mud using sheep skin and then gather up all the pieces and melt them into gold ingots which were beaten by hand into the shape they wanted. The torcs are all no more than millimetres thick so would have taken great care beating the gold. They were then decorated using very fine etching skills. These artefacts were all fascinating to see for real as opposed to our usual hand-outs in class, so we could actually see the care and delicacy that went into them. We were then shown some of the better known exhibition pieces that we had all studied in class and drawn many times for prep. One piece I particularly liked was the carved stone head which was to represent a god and had three faces which showed different moods of their gods.

Last of all on our tour was the Iconic Treasures section. On show here were some pieces I had just been studying such as the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch. These were absolutely amazing to see simply because of how intricate the designs and decorations were. The Ardagh Chalice was a lot smaller than I had imagined. It would have been used for religious purposes and it dates back to early Christianity so would have been used in monasteries. With its enamel studs and gold filigree I thought it was the most impressive artefact from that time.

We left the museum and drove all the way to the Boyne Valley in Co. Meath. The bus left us at the Brú Na Bóinne visitors centre where we had a bite to eat and then walked across the river Boyne and took a short bus ride Newgrange. We could see it from miles away and we were very lucky it was a sunny day so the light really brought it to life. It is a grass mound surrounded by large curb stones (weighing an average of six tons) and much smaller white quartz stones, the white make it stand out for miles around. The whole monument is 62 meters in diameter and about 10 meters high in the center. It dates back to before Stone Henge and before the pyramids. Our tour guide Jackie, took us to the front of the monument and told us how originally all the quartz stones had to be brought from further up the coast then brought up the Boyne on curraghs. The huge curb stones had to be brought by rolling them on logs from about 6 kilometers away.

The tomb was built for burial and what makes it one of the most famous tombs in Europe is that it is aligned perfectly so that on the winter solstice the sun upon rising will shine through a box above the door and will illuminate the passage and the burial site in the center, this would have taken a lot of research into sun patterns. We were shown a recreation of this using lights but it still gave us an idea what it would be like. After leaving the tomb we all walked around it and admired the work on the kerb stones around the edge before returning to the coach and College.