A Merman, The British Museum

Whenever I visit the British Museum, my first stop is always the Enlightenment Gallery. This long, high-ceilinged room is lined with old-fashioned wooden display cases containing some of the objects that formed the original collection of the Museum, many of them donated by its founder Hans Sloane in the mid-18th Century. Although it is now known as a vast repository for historical objects, when it was first created the British Museum also included all sorts of wonders and curiosities, including natural specimens, books and manuscripts.

The Enlightenment Gallery, The British Museum

The Enlightenment Gallery, The British Museum

With its diverse selection of weird and wonderful exhibits, the Enlightenment Gallery is reminiscent of the Cabinets of Curiosity which were so popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Not surprisingly, amongst the coins, ancient sculptures, Greek pots and other treasures can be found a number of distinctly magical objects. My favourite is the tiny Merman, who skulks in the shadows of one of the lower cabinets near the middle of the room.

The Merman, The British Museum

The Merman, The British Museum

With its withered face, shocked expression and spiky teeth, the Merman is a scary little thing. Apparently the original owners claimed that it had been captured in the sea near Japan. Those cynical curators at the British Museum think that it might not be authentic, and is in fact the top half of a monkey stitched on to a fish tail. But I am not so sure.

What do you think?


5 Responses to “A Merman, The British Museum”

  1. That’s one of my favourite things in there too. I also love the Chaucer Stone, that’s in one of the cabinets at the front of the room.

    • Yes I saw the Chaucer Stone for the first time on my last visit. There are so many wonderful things in the gallery, I suspect I will be returning there for a few future blog posts…

  2. You might like this post about the Horniman Museum’s merman, nicknamed Monkey-Fish, by my beekeeping partner Emma: http://missapismellifera.com/2012/01/09/who-is-monkey-fish/

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