The Past in the Present - National Museum of Denmark

by Bodil Bundgaard Rasmussen (ed.), Aarhus Universtaetsforlag 2015, Pb 166 pages, ISBN:  978-87-89438-09-2  (£18.95).

Those present at the Euroclassica conference in Copenhagen in 2014 will remember the guided tours of the museums to see the collections of antiquities and objects connected to antiquity.  The size and quality of the collections in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek and the National Museum were particularly impressive.  This collection of articles from the National Museum of Denmark well illustrates the continuing high-level contribution Denmark makes to cultural studies.  The writers cover Egypt, ancient sculpture, the Middle East, the Silk Road, and Greek vases and plaques.   The antiquities are always studied in the context of their acquisition, collection and display in the museum, as in the examination of the arrival of a number of pieces from the collection King Frederik V.  Of particular interest to the classicist are the chapters on sculpture and vases.  The case study of a Greek amphora that was acquired for the Danish Royal Vase Cabinet is highly revealing of the life of an antique object from its acquisition to the present day.  Bodil Bundgaard Rasmussen (the editor of the whole volume) traces the story of the amphora from its purchase in Italy by the Danish Prince Christian Frederik from the Archbishop of Tarento.  The early publication of the vase is discussed which contains early awareness of possible large-scale restoration, and its history is followed through to notes on its recent conservation.  It is a timely tale, not often told, of just how many hands a particular object passes through before it is displayed for us today in a museum.  All in this case is not as it appears and heavy restoration took place, which should make us wonder what is the background of each object we view and what changes have been made to it.  Excellent before and after illustrations show the extent of this restoration. Dyfri Williams former curator at the British Museum contributes chapters on a Tarentine terracotta and an Athenian funerary plaque.  Other contributions include Tunisian archaeology and collecting, and a Danish archaeology project in Iran.

The whole volume is beautifully produced with high quality illustrations and written in impeccable English.  It is highly recommended for libraries, students of museum studies and general readers who would like to acknowledge the admirable part played by Denmark in the cultural life of Europe.

John Bulwer