The green, green colour of the natural world
24 April 2018 | 12:00 am

Tue, 24th Apr 2018

When leaves are budding and the Gardens are getting green again, what better time to have a look at the colour so closely associated with nature? It's Only Natural Green and nature go hand in hand. The colour conjures up growth, freshness, vitality and fertility. In fact, the word green comes from the old English grene, which has the same origins as grass and grow. If you enjoy gardening, you are considered to be ‘green-fingered’ or as having a ‘green-thumb’ due to its dominance in nature. For this reason, the colour is closely associated with medicine and healing, but this connection goes beyond symbolism. Studies have shown that green is the most restful colour for the human eye, reducing fatigue, with the wavelength of green overlapping with the area of greatest sensitivity in our eyes. The biggest contributor to green in nature is chlorophyll, which is a green pigment that helps the plant or algae absorb energy from light (photosynthesis). Green is a very dominant colour in birds, animals, and insects, as they have adapted to camouflage to their surroundings.Going Green Green is associated with safety and trust as can be seen in traffic lights and escape signs, although the choice of this colour seems to have been related to it being clearly discernible from red. It has associations with vivacity and youth, through its abundance in the natural world, and this association with life, health and growth make it a natural choice for those who want to align themselves with green-focused messaging. Aside from some obvious organisations like Greenpeace and the Green Party, you will also find BP, Starbucks, and Landrover, who want to promote their associations with health and nature. In terms of public perception, it is an equal choice, with 14% of both sexes choosing it as their favourite colour, although more women identify with green being their least favourite colour (6% to 2% of men). Green Eyed Monsters? Most of us know of the association of green with jealousy or envy, but why did this come about? The phrase green-eyed monster may have been coined first by Shakespeare, who uses it in Othello:Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!It is the green-eyed monster which doth mockThe meat it feeds on.Iago, Othello, Act 3, scene 3Green has more than a passing association with the supernatural than the green-eyed monsters of jealousy. Fairies and dragons are often shown as green or wearing green clothing, and green gods are often related to rebirth and spring. Green Men Green men (not so much women) appear in lots of different cultures as important figures, whether they are gods, profits or integral to celebration.The Green Man appears to have pagan origins, perhaps connected to ‘wild man of the woods’ figures, who in turn are link to satyrs or fauns. Despite this, Green Men frequently appear in church decorations and it is a common name for a pub. Jack-in-the-Green is another green character from British folklore, who takes part in revels around May Day as a person (traditionally a chimney sweep) is dressed as a 3m tall bushy tree.Outside of the UK, Khidr (or al-Khidr) from the Quran is a messenger or profit dressed in Green, the Egyptian god of the underworld Osiris has green skin because of its links to good health and rebirth, and Tlaloc, and Aztec god of earthly fertility and water, who also had green skin. Dyes and Pigments Green pigments that first appear in artwork originate from malachite or from green earth, found around southern Europe. Green dyes are rare, although did use ferns, plantain, nettles, lichen, leeks and others as accessible alternative, but these faded or changed colour quickly. Better dyes could be created by first dying the yarn or garments blue and then yellow, but this was more expensive. Verdigris, the pigment created through weathered copper or bronze, was first used by the Greeks and is considered the first artificial green. Other green minerals include emerald and cobalt green.In Artwork Green in ancient artwork was closely associated with nature and rebirth, and was seen positively by the ancient Egyptians and the Romans in this regard. In early modern Europe Green was associated with wealth and well-to-do merchants or gentlemen outside of the nobility, which had an association with red. Paintings like the Mona Lisa and the Arnolfini Portrait are good examples of this.This aligns with the modern association with money, which comes from the colour green in US dollar bills which was originally chosen to deter counterfitters.In the 18th and 19th century the advent on new synthetic pigments saw a greater uptake of the colour, particularly by the romantic movement. "I sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions. The hall is blood red and pale yellow, with a green billiard table in the center, and four lamps of lemon yellow, with rays of orange and green. Everywhere it is a battle and antithesis of the most different reds and greens” 1888, Van Gogh about The Night CafeLearn more about green in our exhibition – Colour: The Rainbow Revealed. 

Saint George, Patron Saint of Ethiopia
19 April 2018 | 12:00 am

Thu, 19th Apr 2018

We're sure that many of you are familiar with the story of Saint George. As the Patron Saint of England, his legend is one well known across the country. Even if you aren't familiar with George himself you'll have seen the cross of Saint George everywhere - from flags on government buildings to football strips. Saint George isn't just the Patron Saint of England though. George's patronage extends to amongst others, Aragon and Catalonia, Georgia (unsurprisingly), Moldova, Palestine, and Ethiopia. In our collections from Ethiopia in particular, Saint George features prominently. So just why has the East African nation taken the Saint to their hearts? Ethiopia, along with its neighbour Eritrea, is something of an exception in the Horn of Africa, in that it is a nation in which the majority of the population practices Christianity. Christianity in Ethiopia takes the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its roots all the way back to the Apostles. Made the official church of the Kingdom of Axum in the 4th century AD, making it one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity, it has remained the dominant religion in Ethiopia ever since. In fact, the Kings of Ethiopia claimed descent from the biblical figures of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  It is unclear quite how the story of Saint George first came to Ethiopia. Saint George is an important figure in the Middle East particularly in Palestine and Lebanon - it is said he was born in either the Levant or Cappadocia - and may have been introduced to Ethiopia by contact with other Oriental Orthodox churches such as the Coptic Church of Egypt. One thing that's very clear though is how important George is in the East African state. In the town of Lalibela, an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians, eleven churches were hewn from rock between the 7th century AD and the 13th century AD. This monumental task means that the churches are found in subterranean trenches with the earth around them excavated to create the form of magnificent church structures. The best preserved and best-executed church in Lalibela is the Biete Giyorgis, the Church of Saint George. Allegedly, this church was sculpted under the orders of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela - after whom the town is named - in the 13th century AD after Saint George visited him in a vision instructing him to do so.  Addis Ababa's cathedral is dedicated to Saint George, as is the city's leading football team. There's even a beer named after Saint George. Saint George is a popular figure in Ethiopian iconography often appearing on horseback driving his lance or spear into the dragon he so famously slew. Just as George's role as a warrior saint made him a popular figure amongst knights and crusaders of Europe, his association with war and battle is prominent when examining our collection of depictions of George in Ethiopian art. The two paintings featured below depict Saint George at the heart of one of Ethiopia's most important historical moments, the Battle of Adwa.At the end of the 19th century, Africa had been carved up by the European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. All of Africa was claimed by European empires with the exception of two states, the Republic of Liberia and the Ethiopian Empire. Despite this, in 1895, the Kingdom of Italy invaded Ethiopia to further its colonial ambitions in the Horn of Africa. Despite initial Italian success, Ethiopian forces would rout their opponents at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, ending their imperial ambitions in Ethiopia. According to the historian Raymond Jones, Adwa stands out as one of the significant events of the 19th century as "In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia alone had successfully defended its independence."In both paintings, we see the amassed forces of Ethiopia and Italy facing off against each other across a battlefield. The Ethiopian forces are also led by the same three figures in both paintings - Emperor Menelik II, Emperess Taytu, and Saint George. Saint George soars above both scenes surrounded by a halo of red, green, and gold, the colours of the Ethiopian flag, granting divine inspiration to the forces of Ethiopia. In one case he even hurls his spears into the massed ranks of the Italian army.  The Battle of Adwa is commemorated to this day in Ethiopia as a national holiday, with public celebrations held in towns and cities across Ethiopia every year. Each year they celebrate the leadership of Menelik II, Tatyu, and of course Saint George.

The Elephant and the Rat
4 April 2018 | 12:00 am

Wed, 4th Apr 2018

While looking through our collections recently we noticed that in most of the depictions of Ganesha we found he is often accompanied by a rat. Eager to get to the bottom of the mystery for World Rat Day we decided to delve deep and uncover the meaning behind this unlikely pairing. Ganesha is one of the most easily recognisable deities of the Hindu pantheon and he will be familiar to many non-Hindus. His distinctive elephant's head marks him out as one of the most memorable figures in Hinduism, and as a patron of the arts and scientists and the remover of objects he plays an important role for many communities throughout South Asia. You may have also noticed that often wherever Ganesha goes he is accompanied by a rat. A small rat may cower beneath his feet, or a giant rat may serve at his vehicle or 'Vahana'. How has a figure as revered as Ganesha come to be associated with the common rat then?The rat first appears as Ganesha's mount in Hindu mythology in the Matsya Purana, a Sanskrit text that is believed to have been begun in the 1st millennium BCE. Since then it has appeared in a number of important texts and myths surrounding Ganesha including the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana According to the Ganesha Purana the mythical origin of Ganesha's rat is this:There was a celestial musician-god by the name Krauncha. One day, in the court of Lord Indra, Krauncha accidentally stepped on the foot of Muni Vamadeva, who (as all Munis), got enraged and cursed Krauncha to become a mouse. However, Krauncha became a huge mountain-sized mouse and ended up damaging everything in its path. Once, he ended up stepping on the ashram of Maharshi Parashar, with whom Lord Ganesha was staying, and destroying it. Lord Ganesha, inorder to teach Krauncha a lesson, unleashed his pasha (noose) on Krauncha which ended up looping around the mouse and bringing him to Lord Ganesha's feet. Ganesha then said something like, "Krauncha...you have caused a lot of trouble and you deserve a severe punishment. But since you ask for my forgiveness, I will pardon you and use you as my vehicle". However, when Ganesha mounted on Krauncha, he couldnt bear the weight of Lord Ganesha. Krauncha pleaded for Ganesha to become light-weight so that he could support him. Lord Ganesha obliged and since then, has been using the mouse as his vehicle.However, the argument continues on quite what the rat is meant to symbolise, and many aren't even sure it's a rat - it could be a mouse. Some believe that the rat helps Ganesha in his role as the remover of obstacles. Rodents can travel in spaces that others could never reach and this allows Ganesha to do his work in the unseen places of the world. The writer, Yuvraj Krishan has argued it is the opposite that is true - that the partnership of Ganesha and the rodent is not one of harmony but rather of domination:Lord Ganesha is known as the Conqueror of Obstacles (Vighnaharta). In ancient times, when agriculture was the primary mode of sustenance, rodents were one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity. Rodents would destroy standing crops, eat up stored grains and thereby result in severe losses for the common man. Lord Ganesha, in having a mouse/rat as his vehicle, is symbolically shown to have conquered this pest, thus staying true to his name of Vighnaharta.Whatever the truth is it seems these two aren't going to be separated any time soon. Next time you see a depiction of Ganesha why not see if you can find his rat companion nearby?

What do you own that means the most to you?
23 March 2018 | 12:00 am

Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 We need your help The Horniman is looking for stories about the objects that mean the most to you. It could be a photograph, a gift you’ve been given, a family heirloom or something that always makes you smile. Whatever you choose, tell us the story of how you came to own it, why it is important to you and what you think when you see it.Our World Gallery will be full of objects that mean a great deal to different people, whether they are vital tools, clothes, decorations or toys. We want your help in creating an online museum of objects to complement the World Gallery, so that we can see the objects that are most important to you, our audience and visitors. So, how do you send your entry? Send us a picture of your object and the story behind it, or record your own video like the ones above, to web@horniman.ac.uk. Alternatively, you can message us on Facebook or Twitter. We will be selecting some of your stories and pictures to go into the World Gallery and will include others on our website, as part of this virtual museum.


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