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  • Writer's pictureLilium

The Fitzwilliam Museum - Enchanting Havens

The Fitzwilliam Museum is the art and antiquities museum of the University of Cambridge.

From antiquity to the present day, the Fitzwilliam houses a world-renowned collection of over half a million beautiful works of art, masterpiece paintings and historical artefacts.

It was founded in 1816 under the will of Richard FitzWilliam, 7th Viscount FitzWilliam, and comprises one of the best collections of antiquities and modern art in western Europe. With over half a million objects and artworks in its collections, the displays in the Museum explore world history and art from antiquity to the present. The treasures of the museum include artworks by Monet, Picasso, Rubens, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Van Dyck, and Canaletto, as well as a winged bas-relief from Nimrud.

We entered through the side entrance as my two companions and I could not easily make it up the many lion guarded stairs. We began in the Armoury and the lower level galleries. We weaved our way through Medieval Renaissance Art, Arts of the Near East, and on to a long corridor of European Pottery and through to an even longer corridor filled with glass cases of delicate European and Japanese Porcelain.

Through Cyprus and we have reached the Gallery we were looking for - Greece and Rome, and standing in front of us in the middle of the room on a tall stone plinth is Antinous.

This statue was found in 1769 on the site of Hadrian’s vast ‘villa’ complex at Tivoli, north of Rome. Unlike the bust of Antinous at the Ashmolean, here he has adopted the features and ivy wreath of the Greek god Dionysos.

The identification between Dionysos and Antinous went beyond the visual. Like the Greek wine god, Antinous was believed to have died and been reborn. Members of his cult would re-enact his death and resurrection, and the act offered them hope for their own immortality.

"This new god sprang fully armed with an instantly identifiable imagery. In death, as in life, Antinous’ appeal lay in his youth and beauty, and his face became one of the best known in the Roman world. The handsome, sensual features of this statue – with its round face, almond eyes, strong brows, full lips and thick, tousled hair – are found on many other representations from all over Hadrian’s Empire. Coins bearing the deified Antinous’ image have been found as far north as Godmanchester in Britain."

The next two rooms are dedicated to Egypt, the artefacts glint mysteriously in the dim light and you stare into the eyes of a sarcophagus, and the sarcophagus stares right back.

I think it would be best to move on before we incite the rage of a mummy cat.

But what we find as we round the corner is of such magnificence that we were left stood in awe at the sheer splendour of the Founders Entrance Hall.

Unluckily for my two companions and I the museum is about to close and we spent so long in Greece and Rome and lost god knows how many minutes in the entrance hall, there was only one thing for it, we were going to have to run through, it was the only way to see everything. As one of my companions does not run under any circumstance, I grab the hand of the other and off up the stairs we go.

In the two rooms on the right and one straight ahead is British Art 16th - 20th century's and in the room on the end solely dedicated to the 20th century we see an unexpectedly wonderful and familiar face that stops us dead in our tracks. It's Siegfried Sassoon.

Siegfried Sassoon, 1917 by Glyn Warren Philpot. Sassoon thought Philpot had made a 'rather good job of it', and was not displeased by being told it gave him a romantically byronic allure.

The Fitzwilliam Museum also hold an Autographed manuscript of Fifty Poems, though it is currently not on display.

"Siegfried Sassoon wrote this fair copy in 1924 while choosing material for his Selected Poems (1925). When the autograph manuscript was rebound in 1953, many empty pages were removed, but Sassoon had intended to fill them eventually, as his note at the end of the volume reveals: ‘The blank pages are the rest of my life.’ He gave the volume to the Fitzwilliam where he had found inspiration during the Great War. While stationed in Cambridge in 1915, he met the Museum Director, Sydney Cockerell, and later recalled returning from an evening with Cockerell to his ‘camp bed in Pembroke College in a trance of stimulation after having handled manuscripts of D.G. Rossetti, William Morris and Francis Thompson … almost a living contact with the Pre-Raphaelites whom I have worshipped since my dreaming adolescence.’"


Joan of Arc (‘Joan the Maiden’) (1882) – Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Joan of Arc (‘Joan the Maiden’) (1882) – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the last painting by Rossetti

There was another 14 rooms to do and about 4 minutes till closing so we rushed though it all, as much as we could, trying to take in all the gilt and gold of the Italian art and the flower paintings and the Dutch but there just wasn't enough time. WE. WERE. IN. HELL! All these beautiful things and we couldn't take the hours or in some cases the days that was needed to look at all the detail and appreciate all the richness and the colours.

After many increasingly ominous messages from the museum tannoy and sharp looks from the security guards, my companion and I returned, heads down and shoulders slumped back down to the missing member of our party who was in an excellent mood after getting to sit on a marble bench for the last 10 minutes watching panicked visitors running back and forth, forsaking their bad time management skills.

We were not sad for long however as once we arrived at where we were staying the owner revealed that she had a litter of dachshund puppies, of which I was allowed to carry one round to cuddle as she showed us to our rooms.


The Fitzwilliam Museum is exquisite in every sense of the word, it's architecture and it's exhibits, and I can not wait for next year when I get to stay in Cambridge for a week and take my time in this crown jewel of a museum. I will leave you with this clip from The Fitzwilliam Museum Object of the Month series where they take an in-depth look at the Founder's Library.



Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations

by A History The Fitzwilliam Museum Siegfried Sassoon Lucilla Burn Scala Publishers


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