Posted by: georginaferry | April 27, 2010

A look back in time

Detail of the 'cat window'

The Museum’s major anniversary exhibition, ‘A Wonderland of Natural History’ which opened last week, is a collection of images documenting its design and construction in the middle years of the 19th century. Photography was still a newfangled technology, but clearly there were photographers in Oxford who saw the new museum and its founders as a wonderful subject for their art.

We see the faces of all the key players: William Acland and John Ruskin whose dream the Museum represented; Benjamin Woodward, the architect who designed it; and the O’Shea brothers, master masons from Ireland who carved all the decoration on the capitals in the court and around the porch and some of the exterior windows.

As well as the photographs there are pen and ink drawings and watercolours, some by Ruskin himself, showing designs for the building that may or may not have been executed. The exhibition puts us back in the period and makes us appreciate the visionary zeal of the founders who had to triumph over considerable opposition to get the museum built at all, and then spared no effort to make it one of the most breathtaking buildings in Oxford.

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