IN the last issue of Sphæra it was reported that the Museum has been designated as one of the small group of non-national museums with outstanding collections. This official judgement of the Museums and Galleries Commission is reflected by the views of the national museums themselves. Their appreciation of the significance of the Museum’s collections is, however, expressed in a more direct way, through requests for the loan of objects: three national museums have borrowed items for special exhibitions in recent months.
The National Gallery requested five instruments for ‘Holbein’s Ambassadors’, the fifth exhibition in its Making and Meaning series. Presented in the Sainsbury Wing, the exhibition was centred on Holbein’s magnificent double portrait, the freshness of its colours vividly revealed by recent restoration. The exhibition, which ran from the 5th November 1997 to the 1st February, explored many of the remarkable features of the painting, including the group of mathematical instruments artfully arranged on the table at the centre of the composition.
The second major national loan from Oxford was to the British Museum. Although the British Museum’s collections have always included historical scientific instruments, few are displayed in its permanent galleries. ‘Humphrey Cole: Mint, Measurement and Maps in Elizabethan England’ (3rd March to 6th May) was the British Museum’s first exhibition to focus on a scientific instrument maker.
Humphrey Cole has a pre-eminent place in English instrument-making as the first native maker of the English trade. The Museum of the History of Science has five of Cole’s surviving output of twenty-six instruments and all were included among the twenty-three assembled for the British Museum exhibition. Each is signed and dated: a compendium of 1568, a folding rule of 1575, a horizontal sundial of 1579, a plane table alidade of 1582, and an altazimuth theodolite of 1586.
The British Museum exhibition did not focus only on Cole as an instrument maker. Money also featured, since Cole was employed in the capacity of a ‘die-sinker’ at the Mint in the Tower of London and therefore had a hand in the production of the coin of the realm.
Cole also acted as an engraver, and cut at least one copper-plate – a map of Palestine for the 1572 edition of the Bishop’s Bible. Richard Jugge, the publisher of this bible, had more than one association with Cole. The Museum’s 1568 compendium was made for Jugge and carries his badge: a tree with a nightingale singing its song ‘Jugge, Jugge, Jugge, Jugge’. Appropriately enough for a publisher, this compendium is in the form of a book.
The third national loan was to the National Museum and Gallery in Cardiff, for an exhibition called ‘Through the Viewfinder: the Photographs of Lewis Carroll’. This exhibition, which runs until the 21st June, is one of many events arranged to coincide with the centenary of the death of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, alias Lewis Carroll.