We took a trip to the Burrell Collection the other day.
This is an incredible accumulation of objects- ancient Greek/Roman, impressionist paintings, Sculptures, swords and armour, fragments of 400 year old tapestry and 1000 year old stained glass windows.
It was all gathered together by William Burrell an extremely wealthy Glasgow shipping merchant. He spent his life gathering it all, and then left it to Glasgow council, along with money to build something to house it in, which had to be in a rural setting. It took the council another 40 years to find somewhere- eventually settling on Pollock park. The collection is so big that only a fraction of the artefacts can be displayed at a time.
Which asks rather a lot of questions about the nature and meaning of art and antiquities. What drove this man to accumulate so much stuff? We who visit Pollock Park may well benefit from his obsession, but can this kind of single minded avarice ever be a good thing?
Burrell might well have been a great bloke (we was known also for his philanthropy) but his legacy seems to be to be rather mixed.
He also collected a number of religious objects- the earliest printed Bibles, fragments of reliquaries and carved statues that somehow survived the zeal of the reformation. Fragments that adorned books made in the great monastic houses.
As I stood and looked at these objects I wondered about what they meant to the people who first beheld them. Where they power statements even then, or were they objects of wonder that drew people to look towards the heavens and worship? Perhaps even then they were both.
The one above (a collection of Nuns carved in Germany around 600 years ago) looks like the carver wanted to display the subjects as full of joy and fun. I wonder if people disapproved?
Investment in icons is unlikely ever to be enough- they can become idols in the beautiful blink of an eye…