Exhibitions: Greeks and gems in Leiden

With roughly three major storms in that many weeks, my friend was seduced by pictures all through her hometown: a stark blue sea with white marble statue. The pic did not advertise Greece, Cyclades, Med. It tried to seduce people to visit the Dutch National Museum for Antiquities (RMO) in Leiden.

RMO 1We love Leiden with its museums, period buildings, Saturday market. We knew this museum was having a face-lift. However, the ad made us presume, all wrinkles had been ironed over and out. So the rain, wind, threatening sky – all only ever impressive in Dutch paintings – ensured we first visited Leiden’s Saturday market and then took shelter at Leiden’s RMO.

The entrance was still the same. The temple donated by Egypt still stood in the entrance hall. The museum shop, information desk, small café were still in the same spot. This time, no lockers played up when we dumped our market purchases in them.

On the ground floor, to the left of the entrance barrier, there was a small but fascinating exhibition on gems and seals. “Splendour & Precision” contains examples from the museum’s over 6300 seals and cut gems. As many are quite small, there are beautiful, enlarged photos hanging on the wall of this exhibition. Th exhibition is also the only space visitors can currently visit on the ground floor, for the Egyptian rooms are still “under construction”.

The info-desk had directed us to the top floor of what once were three different period homes. The Nehalennia altars can still be admired. Merchants from the Roman Empire and places as far away as Cologne, Paris and the mouth of the Seine river had had their gratitude carved in stone for safe crossings to Britain and back – all thanks to this local deity.

A lot of space on the top floor is dedicated to archaeological finds and the Netherlands before, during and a few centuries after Roman occupation. We were more interested in the revamped permanent exhibition “Grieken in Context” or “The Classical World”.

20160206 RMO 1This small museum can of course not compete with the British Museum, but it does have a few impressive works of art. The new presentation is nice. It shows examples and artefacts from various islands. It also explains how trade between the various islands and places further away, like Egypt, influenced Greek art.

This small exhibition continues on the floor below. There the ancient Greek world merges with Etruscan finds and remnants from the Roman era. Quite interesting were the outfits of Roman cavalry, including officers’ masks. However, as on the ground floor, several rooms were closed.

All in all: the ad had promised a lot. The rooms open to visitors contained interesting pieces and highlights. For those unfamiliar with this museum, a first visit may impress.

So: nice for a short break when the weather lets you down and you are entitled to a discount on the entrance fee. The opening of the museum’s new Egyptian exhibition later this year, may seduce us to revisit. However, next time Dutch weather catches us out in Leiden, we will probably visit the Siebold House Museum, Leiden’s Lakenhal, or the impressive Ethnology Museum – with its “lots of cool things for kids”.

The RMO museum in Leiden organises regular events, guided tours, workshops, and activities for children: Dutch National Museum for Antiquities or RMO in Leiden

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