The Admonitions Scroll

The Admonitions Scroll

When we learned we’d be leaving England, we decided to see as much as we could before our departure. Flying across an ocean is expensive, and our new destination was even further away than we started. Atop our list were more trips to the British Museum. We had visited the exhibits for all of our favourite time periods, but knew there was more to explore.

We started with the current special exhibit, since our membership allowed us free access. This exhibit focused on the lives of five mummies from various time periods in Egypt’s history. In their infinite wisdom, the British Museum carefully preserved and stored many of the mummies they received in the early years, despite the prevailing practice at the time of unwrapping them. This often damaged the mummies beyond repair. Now that we have technology which can see through solid objects, however, the museum has opened its stores and uses modern scanners to peer beyond the sarcophagi and wrappings of several of their treasures.

This was one of the most interesting (and heartbreaking) exhibits we visited while in England. Each mummy was on display inside its sarcophagus (save one that was not buried in one). Alongside the display were objects from the person’s life, many found in their tomb. There was also a computer screen with images from the scan revealing what was inside the mummy wrappings. They would run in a loop, revealing the various layers of objects and bone.

The first mummy was a case of accidental mummification; it is believed the person was buried in the desert sand, which took care of the rest. The others ranged from a young temple singer, who died just before reaching maturity, to an old and loyal worker who may have been buried in a sarcophagus not meant for him. One of the mummies was a Greek man who chose to be buried in the Egyptian style during the later years of the empire. Most heartbreaking of all was a mummified baby.

(An unbound Qur’an and carrying case)

The first unvisited section we chose to explore was the Middle Eastern area. Unfortunately, it is smaller than many of the other sections of the museum. Most of the artifacts on display are fantastic ceramic pieces with intricate designs.


They also have some truly fantastic metal work on display, as well as the usual tools and weapons.

(Calligrapher’s tools)

My favourite piece was the area devoted to shadow puppets. These were used for theatre. They are both intricate and delicate.

(These puppets come from stories of brothers named Karagoz and Hacivat who ferry passengers in their boat. One of the creatures they encounter on the water is a dragon)

Our last stop was the section devoted to Chinese art. Unfortunately, due to the delicate nature of some of the objects on display, I was unable to take photos. The most interesting object was an ancient Chinese scroll known as the Admonitions Scroll (full title: Admonitions of the Court Instructress). The text was composed to reprimand Empress Jia and provide advice to the women in the imperial court. The scroll depicts scenes such as a noble woman tossing herself in front of a wild animal to protect her Emperor, or allowing council members to ride with the Emperor and choosing to walk. The captions seem to indicate that women who are obedient and act in the ‘approved’ manner will gain the Emperor’s favour while those that don’t will be ridiculed and shunned.

The Admonitions Scroll was the oldest piece of Chinese art on display. Due to light sensitivity, it is only on display for a short span of days each year. We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have been in the museum during that stretch of days. Out of all the artifacts we witnessed on our visits, it remains one of the most memorable.

(Two huqqa bases, Mughal India, 17th century)

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