Three things that I learned about art today

I spent three hours at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford today. Named after Elias Ashmolean, this is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology. It opened in 1683 and is Britain’s oldest public museum.

Each day, they have a lunchtime tour on one aspect of the museum’s collection and today I went on the tour concerning paintings of the Dutch golden age in the 16th century. I learned some new things:

  • There is a genre of paintings which is simply called genre and means ‘everyday life’. For instance, Dutch paintings showed people skating on a frozen canal or at home reading a letter.
  •  The expression ‘a millstone round the neck’ comes from the fashion in 16th century Netherlands for women to wear around their neck a large ruff known as a millstone. Such an item was not easy to paint.
  • Some paintings feature an object called memento mori (literally ‘remember death’) which is a reminder of our mortality. This might be a skull or bones.


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