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The 2018 Artquest research residency

Artquest, in partnership with the Horniman, are offering a research residency for one London based artist to focus on our collections.

  • The Horniman Bandstand, The Horniman Bandstand in our Gardens
    The Horniman Bandstand in our Gardens

The residency includes:

  • An award of £3000 to engage with the work and collections of the museum
  • An additional award of £850 towards a public facing event showcasing the thinking and research undertaken during the residency
  • Privileged access to museum’s music collection objects and curators

For the 2018 residency we are interested in hearing from applicants to engage with any of our collections (Anthropology, Aquarium and Animal Walk, Archive, Butterfly House, Natural History, Gardens or Musical Instruments) and we particularly welcomes applications from artists with a participatory or socially engaged practice.

Please note, that this is not a studio residency and applicants are expected to have their own studio / workspace to complete any work.

Find out if you are eligible for the residency and apply on Artquest by 10am on Monday 13 August 2018.

Farmers' Market Focus: Route 66

We caught up with the folks from Route 66 to learn about how they make their authentic So-Cal street food.

Hi, can you introduce yourself?

We’re Route 66 and we sell homemade southern Californian street food. We’re based in Forest Hill and it’s a true family run business. Wayne and I design the menus, cook, and prep, and our kids help with serving and setting up.

  • Street 66 Stall, Sophia Spring
    , Sophia Spring

What do you sell at the Horniman Farmers' Market?

Our chicken and chorizo burritos are very popular but we’re best known for our breakfast burrito. We’ve developed this over the years with the aid of a few trips back to California to find the best possible combination of flavours.

  • Route 66 streetfood, Route 66
    , Route 66

What’s happening in your kitchen currently?

Today, we’re making our own habanero sauce - we make all our own sauces and this one is a favourite of those who like it hot.

How long have you been creating street food? How has your business changed over the years?

This is our eighth year of making street food, we have maintained our core menu as it is based on authentic So-Cal street food, but we bring new menu items as a special every now and again - like our fish tacos, breakfast quesadillas, or carne asada.

There are lots of places to get burritos in London now, there were very few when we started. However, nobody else offers our unique range of Southern Californian that is both home-made and authentic.

Renee lived in San Ysidro, right on the Mexican border, and grew up with the local street food, and the Mexican home cooking of her friends’ families.

  • Route 66 streetfood, Route 66
    , Route 66

What makes trading at the Horniman special for you? 

We love the Horniman views, gardens, festive events, the people who work there, and our customers.

Do you still eat So-Cal food at home? 

Eight days a week! Our quesadillas are a real hit with kids, and mum and dad!

Surprising Facts About the Horniman

Do you love the Horniman? Then you might be interested in a few of these curious facts about us.

1. The first wedding at the Horniman happened 130 years ago when our founders’ son Emslie Horniman married his sweetheart Laura Isabel Plomer. Laura’s parents didn’t approve of the match however and locked Laura in her room. Determined to keep in touch with Emslie, Laura cut and sold her hair so that she could afford stamps to send him love letters.

2. The Horniman family still have close ties to the Museum and Gardens, not only as benefactors but more recently Frederick Horniman’s great, great, great granddaughter got married here too in 2014.

  • Emslie and Laura Horniman, A photograph of Laura Horniman stepping out of a carriage with her husband Emslie Horniman holding the door. Underneath is signed 'Laura J. Horniman' 'Emslie J. Horniman. MP 1906-1910'. The original photograph was digitally reproduced by the Horniman Museum with the kind permission of Michael Horniman.
    A photograph of Laura Horniman stepping out of a carriage with her husband Emslie Horniman holding the door. Underneath is signed 'Laura J. Horniman' 'Emslie J. Horniman. MP 1906-1910'. The original photograph was digitally reproduced by the Horniman Museum with the kind permission of Michael Horniman.

3. One of our Victorian collectors was a dustman and “cunning man” of St Neots, Alfred William Rowlett. He was the collector behind a large number of our charms collection and is still remembered in St Neots as a healer. The community referred to him as "Doc Rowlett".

4. Staff in our Animal Walk have created their own mini-allotment from recycled materials, where they grow fresh food for the animals.

5. We have the figurehead of a ship that saw action at the Battle of Trafalgar. It belonged to HMS Mars which was built at Deptford.

6. Some of the paving slabs in our Sunken Gardens seem to be gravestones.

  • Summer bedding in the Sunken Garden, Connie Churcher
    , Connie Churcher

7. The Horniman helped to inspire the making of Siouxsie and the Banshee's album 'Juju'. Featured prominently on the album's cover is an African statue that was once displayed at the Horniman, and Steven Severin of the band says the statue was the "starting point for a lot of the imagery" behind the album.

8. The Conservatory came from the Horniman family home at Coombe Cliff in Croydon and is based on the Crystal Palace.

  • Crystal_Palace_General_view_from_Water_Temple, The Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Originally it was to be found in Hyde Park but was later relocated to Crystal Palace Park., Philip Henry Delamotte, 1854. Smithsonian Libraries via wikicommons
    The Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Originally it was to be found in Hyde Park but was later relocated to Crystal Palace Park., Philip Henry Delamotte, 1854. Smithsonian Libraries via wikicommons

9. Our founder, Frederick John Horniman, is buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery and our staff still maintain his grave.

10. We used to have a lot more large taxidermy, including a polar bear and a moose, as you can see below. Unfortunately, these were sold in the 1940s and now only the walrus remains. We've been trying to track down the polar bear, so tell us if you have had any sightings.

  • The North Hall in past days, The Natural History Gallery in past days
    The Natural History Gallery in past days

11. Each year around 187,000 litres of water from the Aquarium is reused for watering the Gardens. This water is a waste product which can no longer be used in the Aquarium due to impurities and the sensitivities of the fish and corals. It is, however, perfect for the plants.

12. This may be more Horniman folklore than fact. We used to have a vivarium alongside our Aquarium back when the Horniman first opened, which included reptiles, amphibians and even a caiman. According to some, the space for the caimen did not afford it much exercise, so one of the gallery attendants had the job of walking the caimen around the Natural History Gallery after members of the public had gone home.

  • Our vivarium, The Horniman vivarium from our early days
    The Horniman vivarium from our early days

Horniman History: Charles Harrison Townsend

As we celebrate what would have been Charles Harrison Townsend's birthday this weekend, we took a look at the life and work of the architect behind the Horniman's unique style.

For over a century, the Horniman Museum and Gardens has proudly stood atop Forest Hill welcoming visitors through our doors. Over the years millions of visitors have been amazed by our collections and exhibitions, as well as the incredible buildings that house them.

The Horniman owes our existence and vision to our founder Frederick Horniman, but the building’s unique and distinctive style that has made the Horniman a landmark is owed to the mind of the architect Charles Harrison Townsend.

Townsend was born on 13 May 1851 in Birkenhead across the River Mersey from Liverpool on the Wirral Peninsula. He was educated at the Birkenhead School, which opened in 1860 and during Townsend’s time there only had 30 pupils.

  • Birkenhead, By the middle of the 19th century, Birkenhead was developing into an important shipbuilding centre and saw a flourishing of public works such as Birkenhead Park, the first civic funded park in the world.
    By the middle of the 19th century, Birkenhead was developing into an important shipbuilding centre and saw a flourishing of public works such as Birkenhead Park, the first civic funded park in the world.

Townsend's career as an architect began in 1870 when he found himself training under the tutelage of Walter Scott, an architect based in Liverpool. Within a few years, Townsend was working as a draughtsman in the office of Charles Barry, the architect behind the modern Palace of Westminster, the remodelling of Trafalgar Square and Highclere Castle, before he joining E.R. Robson at the London School Board to design hundreds of state-funded schools across London.

  • London School Board School, The London School Board were responsible for the construction of hundreds of new schools in the latter half of the 19th century and many of their designs will be familiar sights for Londoners, Stephen Craven (cc-by-sa/2.0)
    The London School Board were responsible for the construction of hundreds of new schools in the latter half of the 19th century and many of their designs will be familiar sights for Londoners, Stephen Craven (cc-by-sa/2.0)

By 1877, Townsend had struck out on his own and in 1888 he joined the Royal Institute of British Architects as a Fellow. That same year Townsend would also become a member of the Art Worker’s Guild, a group associated with the ideas of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement that would have a huge impact on both Townsend’s personal and professional life.

As a member of the Guild, Townsend designed furniture and wallpaper alongside his work as an architect, and developed an interest in mosaics which no doubt influenced the inclusion of Robert Anning Bell’s "Humanity in the house of circumstance" on the façade of the Horniman. It likely helped that Bell was also a member of the Guild and a close friend of Townsend.

Throughout the 1890s, Townsend was busy designing houses and churches in nearby Blackheath but at the end of the decade, he would receive the three commissions that would cement his legacy as an architect.

  • Bishopsgate Institute, Although the city around it has radically altered the Bishopsgate Institute remains, Ewan Munro (cc-by-sa/2.0)
    Although the city around it has radically altered the Bishopsgate Institute remains, Ewan Munro (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The first commission was to design the Bishopsgate Institute, which opened to the public in 1895. The Institute was built by Reverend William Rogers, the rector of the parish of St Boloph’s using funds the parish had been raising for over five centuries. Rogers was an educational reformer and a champion of public libraries, and he brought Townsend on board to design the Institute as a centre for culture and learning in London’s East End.

The Institute remains standing today continuing its mission and, even as the city around it has changed beyond recognition, Townsend’s original design including a sprawling tree relief and Romanesque archway remains unchanged.

  • Whitechapel Gallery, Although the Whitechapel Gallery has had a number of extensions over the year, the initial design by Charles Townsend still shines brightly on Whitechapel High Steet, G Jackson/Arcaid  (cc-by-sa/3.0)
    Although the Whitechapel Gallery has had a number of extensions over the year, the initial design by Charles Townsend still shines brightly on Whitechapel High Steet, G Jackson/Arcaid (cc-by-sa/3.0)

As the 19th century came to a close, Townsend was approached to design two more public buildings. Frederick Horniman was looking to build an entirely new museum to house his ever-growing collections and the Whitechapel Gallery sought to bring a publicly funded art gallery to the East End. Townsend accepted both commissions, both buildings would open in 1901, and both have remarkably similar designs.

  • Horniman Museum building, The Horniman is a Grade II listed building highlighting the importance and uniqueness of Townsend's design, James Veysey
    The Horniman is a Grade II listed building highlighting the importance and uniqueness of Townsend's design, James Veysey

The Horniman was built from 1898-1901 at a cost of about £40,000, using Doulting stone as used in the construction of Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey. As with the Bishopsgate Institute, both the Horniman and the Whitechapel Gallery incorporate a tree motif and Romanesque arches, but unique to the Horniman is Bell’s mosaic and our wonderful Clocktower.

With its rounded edges, the clock tower is meant to evoke the natural world to reflect Frederick Horniman’s desire that the Horniman’s collections, Gardens and buildings be unified in one theme.

Most importantly though, its unique style has made the Horniman a landmark in South London, so thanks for that Charles.

Get the Horniman look

Has the sun got you in the gardening mood? Want to see your garden burst into life with a dazzling array of colours?

Choose from some of our favourite plants from around the Gardens to get that Horniman look in your own backyard. Or if you've not got the green thumb simply visit our Gardens and see what we've got blooming.

Spring gentian (Gentiana verna)

The spring gentian may not be the biggest flower but it makes up for its unassuming stature with an incredible, vivid, blue colour. The spring gentian ranges from Ireland to Russia, but is currently only found in Teesdale in the wild in this country.

The gentian is known to attract butterflies and bees for pollination so is a great addition to any garden.

  • Spring Gentian, Spring gentian (Gentiana verna), Benjamin Cook
    Spring gentian (Gentiana verna), Benjamin Cook

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

The purple coneflower is a native of North America and a relative of the sunflower. You can find it in our pollinator bed. As its name suggests it produces purple flower heads which are a hit with pollinators.

The flower has long been used by Native Americans to treat various illnesses and the flower is still cultivated today for pharmaceutical use as it is believed to stimulate the immune system.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Photo by Andrea Benson
    Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Photo by Andrea Benson

Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)

Given that its epithet references an ancient Turkish town, it is commonly known as the Maltese cross or the Flower of Constantinople, and that it originates from the steppes of Eurasia – it may surprise you to know that the Lychnis chalcedonica is also the county flower of Bristol.

As well as being a great conversation piece, the Maltese cross adds a spice of red to any display and a unique pattern too.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)
    Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)

Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

If you’ve got the space for lilacs at home we’re very jealous. Lilacs bloom in early summer and produce flowers that can range from lilac to mauve to white. They also have a habit of produce more flowers in alternate years.

Lilacs originate from the Balkans but are now found across Europe and North America having been first introduced to European gardens due to trade with the Ottoman Empire.

  • Lilacs, Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Benjamin Cook
    Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Benjamin Cook

Camellia

Camellias can grow as tall as sixty-six feet so be sure you’ve got plenty of space before you go planting these, but the large flowers they produce are well worth it.

Camellias originate from East Asia and have been cultivated in China and Japan for centuries. Camellias are also of huge importance to the world as the source of tea and tea oil.

  • Camellia, A blooming camellia, Benjamin Cook
    A blooming camellia, Benjamin Cook

Reef Encounters: Lee Goldman

We caught up with Lee Goldman who leads educational snorkeling tours, as part of International Year of the Reef, who is teaching people the importance of coral reefs through educational tours.

What is your typical day?

Breakfast. Snorkel until lunch. Lunch. Snorkel until dinner. Dinner. Bed.

  • Snorkeler in the Banda Islands, Lee leads tours in the Coral Triangle, a marine area encompassing the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, Lee Goldman
    Lee leads tours in the Coral Triangle, a marine area encompassing the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, Lee Goldman

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

The moment my facemask hit the water in Palau, I knew I wanted to work in this part of the world. I began guiding in Palau and several years later I completed my Master’s degree in marine biology as a way to further my guiding career.

Shortly after finishing school, I had the opportunity to design and lead snorkeling tours for several high-end travel companies like Wilderness Travel and WWF travel programs. After many years of this, I started my own travel business with a colleague of mine and we continue to offer high-quality snorkeling programs.

  • PNG_snorkeler, "The moment my facemask hit the water...I knew I wanted to work in this part of the world", Lee Goldman
    "The moment my facemask hit the water...I knew I wanted to work in this part of the world", Lee Goldman

What inspires you in your work?

Snorkeling amongst healthy, colorful, and productive reefs.

What would your message for the future of the reefs be?

At this point, with things going the way they are, there isn’t much of a future for reefs as we recognise them today.

Reef communities will change, and whether they will change for the better or worse will be revealed, but if the world wants to have the reefs of today for generations to come, we will need a major change in the way we all approach life.

  • Raja Ampat_1, "If the world wants to have the reefs of today for generations to come, we will need a major change in the way we all approach life.", Lee Goldman
    "If the world wants to have the reefs of today for generations to come, we will need a major change in the way we all approach life.", Lee Goldman

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

People ask all the time, but I honestly don’t have a favorite.

For me seeing a healthy reef community is my favorite thing.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

I guess the oddest thing I have seen would be the time Orcas chased a seal onto the swim-step of our research boat. I don’t know if that counts as oddest more than rarest, but it stands out for me.

The oddest creature would have to be the pearlfish.

  • Pearlfish, Pearlfish are peculiar due to their habit of hiding inside sea cucumbers
    Pearlfish are peculiar due to their habit of hiding inside sea cucumbers

What kit do you use when taking photos?

Lumix GX-7 on a Nauticam housing. Twin Inon 240z lights. My favourite lens is the 60mm (120mm equivalent) macro.

  • Snorkeler, "For me seeing a healthy reef community is my favorite thing", Lee Goldman
    "For me seeing a healthy reef community is my favorite thing", Lee Goldman

What’s the next big thing for your work?

New destinations. Each year we try to explore a new area for snorkeling.

We have new itineraries in Papua New Guinea, Halmahera, and the Solomon Islands on the horizon.

  • Split reef scene PNG, "Each year we try to explore a new area for snorkeling.", Lee Goldman
    "Each year we try to explore a new area for snorkeling.", Lee Goldman

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

Any scientist that is putting their research time and money into solving the root of the reef-health problems.

In other words, I greatly admire the type of scientist who is developing new techniques for waste management in 3rd world countries to stop reefs degrading in the first place.

  • Wart frogfish, The warty frogfish can change its colouration to blend in with its surroundings, Lee Goldman
    The warty frogfish can change its colouration to blend in with its surroundings, Lee Goldman

The green, green colour of the natural world

When leaves are budding and the Gardens are getting green again, what better time to have a look at the colour so closely associated with nature?

It's Only Natural

Green and nature go hand in hand. The colour conjures up growth, freshness, vitality and fertility. In fact, the word green comes from the old English grene, which has the same origins as grass and grow. If you enjoy gardening, you are considered to be ‘green-fingered’ or as having a ‘green-thumb’ due to its dominance in nature. 

For this reason, the colour is closely associated with medicine and healing, but this connection goes beyond symbolism. Studies have shown that green is the most restful colour for the human eye, reducing fatigue, with the wavelength of green overlapping with the area of greatest sensitivity in our eyes.

The biggest contributor to green in nature is chlorophyll, which is a green pigment that helps the plant or algae absorb energy from light (photosynthesis).

Green is a very dominant colour in birds, animals, and insects, as they have adapted to camouflage to their surroundings.

  • NH.27.7-IG, Green is a common colour amongst birds, especially amongst those that live in the rainforest. The green colour allows them to blend in with their surroundings.
    Green is a common colour amongst birds, especially amongst those that live in the rainforest. The green colour allows them to blend in with their surroundings.

Going Green

Green is associated with safety and trust as can be seen in traffic lights and escape signs, although the choice of this colour seems to have been related to it being clearly discernible from red. 

It has associations with vivacity and youth, through its abundance in the natural world, and this association with life, health and growth make it a natural choice for those who want to align themselves with green-focused messaging. Aside from some obvious organisations like Greenpeace and the Green Party, you will also find BP, Starbucks, and Landrover, who want to promote their associations with health and nature.

In terms of public perception, it is an equal choice, with 14% of both sexes choosing it as their favourite colour, although more women identify with green being their least favourite colour (6% to 2% of men).

Green Eyed Monsters?

Most of us know of the association of green with jealousy or envy, but why did this come about? The phrase green-eyed monster may have been coined first by Shakespeare, who uses it in Othello:

Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
Iago, Othello, Act 3, scene 3

Green has more than a passing association with the supernatural than the green-eyed monsters of jealousy. Fairies and dragons are often shown as green or wearing green clothing, and green gods are often related to rebirth and spring.

Green Men

Green men (not so much women) appear in lots of different cultures as important figures, whether they are gods, prophets or are integral to celebration.

The Green Man appears to have pagan origins, perhaps connected to ‘wild man of the woods’ figures who, in turn, are linked to satyrs or fauns. Despite this, Green Men frequently appear in church decorations and it is a common name for a pub.

Jack-in-the-Green is another green character from British folklore, who takes part in revels around May Day as a person (traditionally a chimney sweep) is dressed as a 3m tall bushy tree.

  • Jack in the Green, A chimney sweeps' Jack in the Green dances with the "Lord and Lady of the May" (probably both played by men) in 18th-century London.
    A chimney sweeps' Jack in the Green dances with the "Lord and Lady of the May" (probably both played by men) in 18th-century London.

Outside of the UK, Khidr (or al-Khidr) from the Quran is a messenger or prophet dressed in Green, the Egyptian god of the underworld Osiris has green skin because of its links to good health and rebirth, and Tlaloc, and Aztec god of earthly fertility and water, who also had green skin.

Dyes and Pigments

Green pigments that first appear in artwork originate from malachite or from green earth, found around southern Europe. Green dyes are rare, although did use ferns, plantain, nettles, lichen, leeks and others as accessible alternative, but these faded or changed colour quickly. Better dyes could be created by first dying the yarn or garments blue and then yellow, but this was more expensive.

Verdigris, the pigment created through weathered copper or bronze, was first used by the Greeks and is considered the first artificial green. Other green minerals include emerald and cobalt green.

  • statue-of-liberty-267948_1920, The Statue of Liberty owes its green colouration to Verdigris
    The Statue of Liberty owes its green colouration to Verdigris

In Artwork

Green in ancient artwork was closely associated with nature and rebirth, and was seen positively by the ancient Egyptians and the Romans in this regard.

In early modern Europe Green was associated with wealth and well-to-do merchants or gentlemen outside of the nobility, which had an association with red. Paintings like the Mona Lisa and the Arnolfini Portrait are good examples of this.

  • Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait, The Arnolfini Portrait features a woman in a green dress which at the time would have been a symbol of this family's position in the merchant classes
    The Arnolfini Portrait features a woman in a green dress which at the time would have been a symbol of this family's position in the merchant classes

This aligns with the modern association with money, which comes from the colour green in US dollar bills which was originally chosen to deter counterfitters.

In the 18th and 19th century the advent on new synthetic pigments saw a greater uptake of the colour, particularly by the romantic movement.

I sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions. The hall is blood red and pale yellow, with a green billiard table in the center, and four lamps of lemon yellow, with rays of orange and green. Everywhere it is a battle and antithesis of the most different reds and greens.
1888, Van Gogh about The Night Cafe

Learn more about green in our exhibition – Colour: The Rainbow Revealed

Saint George, Patron Saint of Ethiopia

We're sure that many of you are familiar with the story of Saint George. As the Patron Saint of England, his legend is one well known across the country.

Even if you aren't familiar with George himself you'll have seen the cross of Saint George everywhere - from flags on government buildings to football strips.

Saint George isn't just the Patron Saint of England though. George's patronage extends to amongst others, Aragon and Catalonia, Georgia (unsurprisingly), Moldova, Palestine, and Ethiopia. In our collections from Ethiopia in particular, Saint George features prominently. So just why has the East African nation taken the Saint to their hearts?

Ethiopia, along with its neighbour Eritrea, is something of an exception in the Horn of Africa, in that it is a nation in which the majority of the population practices Christianity. Christianity in Ethiopia takes the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its roots all the way back to the Apostles. Made the official church of the Kingdom of Axum in the 4th century AD, making it one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity, it has remained the dominant religion in Ethiopia ever since. In fact, the Kings of Ethiopia claimed descent from the biblical figures of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  

  • Saint George 001, Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.
    Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.

It is unclear quite how the story of Saint George first came to Ethiopia. Saint George is an important figure in the Middle East particularly in Palestine and Lebanon - it is said he was born in either the Levant or Cappadocia - and may have been introduced to Ethiopia by contact with other Oriental Orthodox churches such as the Coptic Church of Egypt. 

  • 465px-Bete_Giyorgis_03, The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.
    The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.

One thing that's very clear though is how important George is in the East African state. In the town of Lalibela, an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians, eleven churches were hewn from rock between the 7th century AD and the 13th century AD. This monumental task means that the churches are found in subterranean trenches with the earth around them excavated to create the form of magnificent church structures. The best preserved and best-executed church in Lalibela is the Biete Giyorgis, the Church of Saint George. Allegedly, this church was sculpted under the orders of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela - after whom the town is named - in the 13th century AD after Saint George visited him in a vision instructing him to do so. 

Addis Ababa's cathedral is dedicated to Saint George, as is the city's leading football team. There's even a beer named after Saint George.

Saint George is a popular figure in Ethiopian iconography often appearing on horseback driving his lance or spear into the dragon he so famously slew. Just as George's role as a warrior saint made him a popular figure amongst knights and crusaders of Europe, his association with war and battle is prominent when examining our collection of depictions of George in Ethiopian art. The two paintings featured below depict Saint George at the heart of one of Ethiopia's most important historical moments, the Battle of Adwa.

  • Battle of Adwa 01, Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.
    Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.

At the end of the 19th century, Africa had been carved up by the European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. All of Africa was claimed by European empires with the exception of two states, the Republic of Liberia and the Ethiopian Empire. Despite this, in 1895, the Kingdom of Italy invaded Ethiopia to further its colonial ambitions in the Horn of Africa. Despite initial Italian success, Ethiopian forces would rout their opponents at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, ending their imperial ambitions in Ethiopia. According to the historian Raymond Jones, Adwa stands out as one of the significant events of the 19th century as "In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia alone had successfully defended its independence."

  • Battle of Adwa 02, As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.
    As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.

In both paintings, we see the amassed forces of Ethiopia and Italy facing off against each other across a battlefield. The Ethiopian forces are also led by the same three figures in both paintings - Emperor Menelik II, Emperess Taytu, and Saint George. Saint George soars above both scenes surrounded by a halo of red, green, and gold, the colours of the Ethiopian flag, granting divine inspiration to the forces of Ethiopia. In one case he even hurls his spears into the massed ranks of the Italian army. 

The Battle of Adwa is commemorated to this day in Ethiopia as a national holiday, with public celebrations held in towns and cities across Ethiopia every year. Each year they celebrate the leadership of Menelik II, Tatyu, and of course Saint George.

The Elephant and the Rat

While looking through our collections recently we noticed that in most of the depictions of Ganesha we found he is often accompanied by a rat. Eager to get to the bottom of the mystery for World Rat Day we decided to delve deep and uncover the meaning behind this unlikely pairing.

Ganesha is one of the most easily recognisable deities of the Hindu pantheon and he will be familiar to many non-Hindus. His distinctive elephant's head marks him out as one of the most memorable figures in Hinduism, and as a patron of the arts and scientists and the remover of objects he plays an important role for many communities throughout South Asia. You may have also noticed that often wherever Ganesha goes he is accompanied by a rat. A small rat may cower beneath his feet, or a giant rat may serve at his vehicle or 'Vahana'. How has a figure as revered as Ganesha come to be associated with the common rat then?

  • 1990.23, This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet
    This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet

The rat first appears as Ganesha's mount in Hindu mythology in the Matsya Purana, a Sanskrit text that is believed to have been begun in the 1st millennium BCE. Since then it has appeared in a number of important texts and myths surrounding Ganesha including the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana

According to the Ganesha Purana the mythical origin of Ganesha's rat is this:

There was a celestial musician-god by the name Krauncha. One day, in the court of Lord Indra, Krauncha accidentally stepped on the foot of Muni Vamadeva, who (as all Munis), got enraged and cursed Krauncha to become a mouse. However, Krauncha became a huge mountain-sized mouse and ended up damaging everything in its path. Once, he ended up stepping on the ashram of Maharshi Parashar, with whom Lord Ganesha was staying, and destroying it. Lord Ganesha, inorder to teach Krauncha a lesson, unleashed his pasha (noose) on Krauncha which ended up looping around the mouse and bringing him to Lord Ganesha's feet. Ganesha then said something like, "Krauncha...you have caused a lot of trouble and you deserve a severe punishment. But since you ask for my forgiveness, I will pardon you and use you as my vehicle". However, when Ganesha mounted on Krauncha, he couldnt bear the weight of Lord Ganesha. Krauncha pleaded for Ganesha to become light-weight so that he could support him. Lord Ganesha obliged and since then, has been using the mouse as his vehicle.

However, the argument continues on quite what the rat is meant to symbolise, and many aren't even sure it's a rat - it could be a mouse. Some believe that the rat helps Ganesha in his role as the remover of obstacles. Rodents can travel in spaces that others could never reach and this allows Ganesha to do his work in the unseen places of the world. The writer, Yuvraj Krishan has argued it is the opposite that is true - that the partnership of Ganesha and the rodent is not one of harmony but rather of domination:

Lord Ganesha is known as the Conqueror of Obstacles (Vighnaharta). In ancient times, when agriculture was the primary mode of sustenance, rodents were one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity. Rodents would destroy standing crops, eat up stored grains and thereby result in severe losses for the common man. Lord Ganesha, in having a mouse/rat as his vehicle, is symbolically shown to have conquered this pest, thus staying true to his name of Vighnaharta.

Whatever the truth is it seems these two aren't going to be separated any time soon. Next time you see a depiction of Ganesha why not see if you can find his rat companion nearby?

  • 513.003, A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana
    A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana

What do you own that means the most to you?

We need your help

The Horniman is looking for stories about the objects that mean the most to you.

It could be a photograph, a gift you’ve been given, a family heirloom or something that always makes you smile. Whatever you choose, tell us the story of how you came to own it, why it is important to you and what you think when you see it.

Our World Gallery will be full of objects that mean a great deal to different people, whether they are vital tools, clothes, decorations or toys.

We want your help in creating an online museum of objects to complement the World Gallery, so that we can see the objects that are most important to you, our audience and visitors.

So, how do you send your entry?

Send us a picture of your object and the story behind it, or record your own video like the ones above, to web@horniman.ac.uk. Alternatively, you can message us on Facebook or Twitter.

We will be selecting some of your stories and pictures to go into the World Gallery and will include others on our website, as part of this virtual museum.

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