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    Find the mind’s construction in the face: an exhibition of life and death masks

    By Sophie E Pleterski, on 11 June 2014

    noel

    I have to admit that this was my first visit to the UCL Art Museum. After walking past it twice, I finally stumbled across the entrance to this carnivalesque little treasure trove and almost immediately part of me wished I hadn’t.

    Surrounded by rows of the plaster life and death masks of poets and murderers, professors and highwaymen, child prodigies and medics, it wasn’t very clear where in this bizarre spectacle you might want to begin.

    Thankfully, it was at this point that Dr Carole Reeves (UCL Science & Technology Studies) swooped in to put what felt like a macabre examination of someone’s final moments into its historical context.

    The masks were collected in mid 19th-century Dresden by amateur phrenologist Robert Nole to illustrate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ types of people.

    Donated to UCL as part of the Galton Collection in 1911, they exemplify the trend in 19th century aristocratic circles for pseudo-scientific hobbies. Nole’s particular predilection was phrenology: the study of head morphology and the belief that it is intrinsically linked to a person’s character.

    (more…)

    Dictionaries and Dialogues

    By Guest Blogger, on 16 November 2011

    If you look into a particular display cabinet in UCL Art Museum’s current exhibition, ‘Word and Image’, you might think that you are looking at a collection of dictionaries. But as Dr Alexander Samson – one of the curators of ‘Word and Image’– explained on Tuesday, they are a great deal more than that. Ben Davies was at the museum to hear more.

    Bibliotheca Hispanica

    Copyright Special Collections

    ‘Dictionaries and Dialogues’ was part of the museum’s ‘Pop-Up’ programme, in which different speakers are given free rein to talk about particular pieces in the collections within the museum surroundings.

    So, we listened to Dr Samson speak in more intimate surroundings than most lectures offer. We were encouraged to wander among the exhibits in the main gallery as the talk went on, not least because Dr Samson wove discussions of some of the pieces into his lecture, bringing pictures and historical texts to life with explanations of their political and historical significance.

    He began by noting that contemporary English speakers are rather unusual in not having translation as a central aspect of our lives, because English is often used as a common language in business and politics, and is fairly dominant in culture such as music and film. (more…)