Museum of the Week

So, once again it’s ages since I’ve written anything and I feel I should be apologising, but I do it every time and I’m bored now, so I won’t. Instead, I will tell you about not one, but two lovely museums I have been to this week! You lucky people.

This week I’ve been in bonny Scotland to visit friends and see the newly restored and re-opened National Museum of Scotland (NMS) in Edinburgh, and the Hunterian in Glasgow, which has recently reopened with a new permanent exhibit on the occupation of southern Scotland by the Romans (which didn’t last long!). As this post seems to have gotten rather long (and rather picture-heavy) as I’ve been writing, I will split my Scottish adventure into two posts. First, the National Museum of Scotland.

The NMS re-opened fully in July this year after a major restoration project to turn the beautiful old Victorian part of the building, which had been used as storage space for many years, back into the impressive gallery space it was always intended to be. The new main entrance to the building takes you in at basement level, into a dark stone-walled cellar space containing a cafe and stylish shop. You then ascend via a staircase (or a lift if stairs are troublesome to you) into the grand, skylight central hall.

Off this central hall are various galleries containing ethnographic, social history, natural history, egyptian, scientific, and European art collections. All of which are beautifully displayed (although I do worry about how long the many objects displayed on plinths with no cases or barriers will survive – a sign saying ‘please do not touch’ is practically an invitation to do just that. Especially if you’re a small child!), interestingly interpreted, and with lots of interactives to keep fickle children entertained. Which I’m sure some museum purists will scoff at, but it seemed to be working. I saw very few bored, complaining children! And there were a lot of children, it being half-term when I visited (poor planning on my part!).

The galleries are each laid out around halls running off the main courtyard, with displays circling around the balconies on each of the three floors covering different themes. Each area of the collection is displayed differently, with the ethnographic objects laid out sparsely and artistically in a well-lit space, the European ceramics and art (mostly of a religious nature) set in a darkened, cathedral-like space in the middle of the building, the science and technology (the most hands-on, child-friendly area of the museum) brightly coloured and exciting, and the natural history exploding at you from every angle!

The themes are well explained and illustrated by specimens, the taxidermy beautiful and imaginatively posed (including hunting animals in mid-leap, and a pair of Geoffroy’s cats in mid-coitus), and the aquatic creatures are well-hung…

The space has been used incredibly well, and a lot of specimens have been fitted into the space without it feeling overstuffed. A particularly poignant case on one of the upper balconies contains animals that are either extinct or critically endangered due to the actions of humans, and next to it hangs an honour roll of man-made extinctions (which, sadly, is already out of date as it was announced last week that the Vietnamese subspecies of the Javan rhino is now extinct thanks to poachers).

There is a lot more to see and explore at the NMS, including the older galleries containing Scottish archaeology and historic artefacts, and a large display on the evoution of Scotland which includes some wonderful fossils and yet more beautfiul taxidermy, arranged in naturalistic poses and settings in large cases akin to zoo enclosures. I will let you all go and explore it all yourself (and I strongly encourage you to do so, it’s well worth it!), but I will leave you with a few more pictures to whet your appetites.

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