I love the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: it’s bursting with interesting objects, sliced and diced into neat collections that are themed by age, or place, or by the type of thing – in this case, a room full of old musical instruments. These four guitars, reading from left to right, were made by:
Giorgio Sellas (Venice, 1627)
René Voboam (Paris, 1641)
Antonio Stradivari (Cremona, 1688)
Antonio dos Santos Vieira (Lisbon, early C18th).
If you didn’t know that Stradivari made guitars, you’re not alone, because I didn’t either. On the other hand, despite having lived with a guitarist and a burgeoning guitar collection for over three decades, what I do know about guitars could be inscribed in magic marker on the back of a 50mm lens. “It’s strange that they’re mostly five-stringed,” said R. “Why is that strange?” I enquired, trying and failing to sound intelligent. He drew a careful breath and explained patiently that the modern guitar is (usually) a six-stringed instrument – though to be honest, he could have saved himself the trouble: I’ll have forgotten again by tomorrow.
By the way, the lovely curly detail at the bottom of the Voboam is called a moustache bridge, and the Stradivari apparently also had one of these originally – at which time the frets would have been made of gut wrapped around the neck, rather than these later metal ones. The Sellas and Voboam both have spectacular backs – I’ve put in a photo as an extra.
We’d gone to the Ashmolean this morning to see a couple of free exhibitions of some of their Italian Renaissance drawings – which to my mind were not worth having got up early for, though I think R may have got more from them than I did. They certainly didn’t hold us up for long, and we therefore had quite a lot of pre-lunch pottering about time – which I think is the ideal way to enjoy this museum, rather than trying to see the collections in any kind of ordered way.
After lunch we went for a stroll, and then returned to the Ashmolean to see their exhibition America’s Cool Modernism, which is a truly awful title for a show I thoroughly enjoyed, and would recommend if you’re in the vicinity. There are a couple of decent O’Keefes, and some haunting Hoppers; but also some works I loved by artists of whom I’d never heard, such as Charles Demuth; and some nice photos by Imogen Cunningham and Paul Strand. I much preferred it to the Italian Renaissance.
On the way home R could hardly have failed to sense me fidgeting as we drove through the Cotswolds, and he kindly offered to swing round via the owl field; but I martyred myself and declined – a decision I’ve been kicking myself for ever since.