Exeposé Arts Issue 616, Page 39 (26 November 2013) and Exeposé Arts online (6 December 2013)
ONE of the challenges I have often found myself up against whilst visiting museums is that age-old difficulty of truly engaging with the faces gazing down from secluded ‘oil on canvas’ platforms, or artefacts lying shielded and remote in glass cabinets.
However, stepping into the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s new exhibit, I had the sense that I would overcome this typical struggle to find connections with the art and history surrounding me.
The name ‘West Country to World’s End: the South West in the Tudor Age’ immediately outlines an aim of the exhibition. Effectively zooming in on what often seems a vast yet somewhat vague and incomprehensible time period, West Country to World’s End celebrates “the spirit of adventure and enterprise of South West people”.
Touching upon the lives of such pioneering figures as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, both born in Devon, this exhibition brought history home for me in an almost literal sense. To see the very county in which I have come to feel I belong being associated with such figures of worldwide fame and accomplishment stirred pride within me, alongside a sense of affinity with these men I would otherwise struggle to find.
Particularly fascinating was an exhibit centred on Devon’s goldsmiths, and a communion cup made by Exeter-born Richard Hilliard. Furthermore, in the same cabinet as this artefact stood a watercolour miniature of Hilliard himself, painted by his son. Not only could I then imagine myself thrown back almost 500 years, walking the same streets as Hilliard; I could now picture the man I would see walking past me, contemplating his latest artistic project.
West Country to World’s End offers moments like these in abundance. Joan Tuckfield, widow of an Exeter woollen cloth merchant, poses in portrait beside a cabinet displaying her will. Yet which contribution to her historical footprint offers more insight into the life of this now unreachable figure: the artist’s, or her own?
This exhibition inspires viewers to seek connections between themselves and those displayed, appreciating the history of the South West in exciting and thought-provoking ways. A must visit for all Exeter students.