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The year-end blockbuster exhibition for National Museum is its showcase of more than 200 ancient and contemporary treasures from the British Museum.

General view of the temple at Borobudur: (Above) Around AD 1814 (Watercolour on paper)

Standing figure of the Buddha: (Above) Ancient Gandhara, Pakistan (AD 100 – 200)

Marble group of a nymph escaping from a satyr: (Above) Tivoli, Italy (2nd century AD)

A story of the world

Now on display at the National Museum, 239 objects from the British Museum reveal how humans have organised their lives through the ages.
Dec 4, 2015 5:50 AM

A CENTURIES-OLD Egyptian mummy board is said to be cursed. Not only was it believed to have caused the death or injury of all its owners, it was also rumoured to be on board the Titanic ship that sank - a rumour which has since been dispelled.

The beautifully preserved mummy board (which is a kind of lid for a coffin) is now being displayed innocuously among 238 other artefacts at the National Museum of Singapore. So far, so good. No mishap reported yet.

The exhibition is a showcase of many of the British Museum's finest treasures which have been carefully shipped here for the exhibition. Since 1753, the British Museum has been collecting objects that tell the story of humanity from over two million years ago to the present. The objects hail from several civilisations in Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

The "Unlucky Mummy" - which, incidentally, has its own Wikipedia page - is placed next to another stunning mummy of an adolescent boy wrapped in beautiful layers of carefully arranged linen. At the head of the mummy is a portrait of the boy, rendered like a piece of modern art even though the boy mummy is 1,900 years old.

And if age and seniority are the most important qualities in this crowd, then the mummies don't have anything on several exhibits which date even further back into antiquity. The oldest object in the exhibition is an 800,000-year-old stone handaxe found in Tanzania, Africa.

Made from quartz, the small handaxe is an example of palaeolithic man's innovation in turning an ordinary rock into a weapon. From Africa, the handaxe spread to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe and remained in use for another 750,000 years.

But while it may appear unspectacular to the untrained eye, other objects in this exhibition are stunningly intricate, showing how refined and advanced human aesthetics already were thousands of years ago. For instance, a standing figure of Buddha dated AD 100-200 found in ancient Gandhara in Pakistan boasts extraordinary life-like features that hint at the influence of Greco-Roman art on Gandharan craftsmen. Other extraordinary objects from antiquity include a headdress and necklace dug up in the burial grounds of the city of Ur, located in the south-eastern part of Mesopotamia, now South Iraq. These objects made of gold, lapis lazuli and cornelian are believed to be from the early dynastic period of Mesopotamia, around 2500 BC.

One of the highlights of this exhibition is a group of objects belonging to Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. His collection includes a Javanese mask, a kris and scabbard, a batik cloth believed to be the earliest recorded one, as well as a painting of the Borobudur temple which Raffles may have commissioned himself.

National Museum director Angelita Teo says: "We're coming to the end of Singapore's golden jubilee year, so we wanted our last exhibition of 2015 to be something global in order to emphasise Singapore's connection with the rest of the world."

The exhibition titled Treasures of the World opens on Saturday and runs till May 29 at National Museum of Singapore. Tickets at S$14 for adults available at the door

Three treasures

Standing figure of the Buddha

Ancient Gandhara, Pakistan (AD 100 - 200)

This 92cm-tall sculpture is gorgeously detailed and lifelike. In particular, his flowing monastic robes and halo around his head lends him an unusual air of purity and enlightenment.

General view of the temple at Borobudur

Around AD 1814 (Watercolour on paper)

In 1814, when Sir Stamford Raffles was told about a "lost" monument in Yogyakarta, he ordered Dutch engineer HC Cornelius to search for the site. This watercolour painting was believed to have been made for Raffles.

Marble group of a nymph escaping from a satyr

Tivoli, Italy (2nd century AD)

This exquisite sculpture of a nymph struggling to free herself from a flirtatious satyr is a fine example of art from the Hellenistic period.