The British Museum Just Launched New Guided Tours of Its LGBTQ Treasures
Just in time for London Pride 2019.
If you’re planning on being one of the tens of thousands who turn out on Saturday for London Pride 2019, then you might also be tempted to head to the British Museum.
The museum has launched a brand new initiative of LGBTQ-themed guided tours, which have been created as an extension of the self-led LGBTQ “trail” around the museum, launched in 2018.
About a dozen volunteer staff members will be guiding guests around some of the museum’s most famous LGBTQ objects, according to the museum — many of them dating back thousands of years.
The exhibits include the museum’s most iconic LGBTQ object, the Warren Cup — the “holy grail” of gay history, according to the Guardian.
The Warren Cup is thought to have been created in the first century AD, and is decorated with two scenes of male lovers.
“This Roman wine cup could not be displayed publicly for most of the 20th century,” says the museum. “Homosexuality was illegal in England and Wales until July 1967.”
The Warren Cup is also the main feature of a collaboration between the British Museum, LGBTQ charity Stonewall, and silversmith Hal Messel.
The partnership has seen the creation of eight different versions of the cup — each in a different colour of the original Pride flag.
The series of artworks launched July 4 at the British Museum, according to PinkNews. And they’ll be publicly exhibited at Christie’s and the Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair before being sold to collectors.
ta-dah✨🏳️🌈 This morning we’ve revealed these beauties, 8 silver replicas of the @britishmuseum’s iconic Roman Warren Cup. This major partnership with @stonewalluk#PYGLondon Hal Messel sees each piece tinted in a colour of the original #Pride flag ❤️🧡💛💚💙 pic.twitter.com/Lw8RRmbIju— Maxwell Museums (@maxwellmuseums) July 4, 2019
“Depictions of sex were widely found and in fact celebrated in Roman art, but for hundreds of years, same-sex relationships have been all but erased from history as so few artefacts have survived, or have been overlooked, ignored, or hidden away for fear of public outcry,” Messel told PinkNews.
A percentage of the profits from the artworks’ sale will also reportedly go to the British Museum to help expand its LGBTQ programmes.
While guided tours themselves take in a number of the museum’s key LGBTQ highlights, the tour guides will also be encouraged to “include any objects that they feel have particular resonance wit them that might not be covered yet in the trail,” says the museum.
Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, told Global Citizen: “The British Museum has always been open to everyone, presenting all cultures to visitors from around the world.”
He added: “It is hugely important that institutions like ours meaningfully present LGBTQ art and history, so I am delighted that we are offering these new tours that explore the LGBTQ experiences found throughout our collection, both ancient and modern."
Among the 15 key objects on the trail are several celebrations of gender fluidity, depictions of historical LGBTQ figures, and LGBTQ relationships.
One sculpture, Queen of the Night, dates back to 1,800 BC and is believed to be a depiction of the Bablyonian goddess Ishtar, also known as Inanna, who was credited with the power to assign gender.
Some of her followers "seemed to have been considered woman-like men who did forbidden things to delight her,” according to the museum.
“Goddess of love, war, and ladies of the night, Ishtar has also been known to sport an occasional beard,” it adds. “Above all else, she was fierce.”
This relief is known as ‘The Queen of the Night’. Made in Babylonia between 1792–1750 BC, it may depict Ishtar, goddess of sexual love and war.— British Museum (@britishmuseum) February 24, 2019
There are still traces of paint on the sculpture – this reconstruction shows what it may have originally looked like. pic.twitter.com/PsP7PatjVF
The museum adds: “Other examples of genderfluid deities still worshipped today include the Hindu gods Shiva and Lakshminarayan, whose dual aspects are sometimes indicated on their statues, which often wear both male- and female-style dress.”
Another object is an urn dedicated to the Greek poet Sappho. While little is known for certain about Sappho, her poems gave a voice to female desire that still resonates today.
There's also the object of the Ain Sakhri Lovers, which dates from about 11,000 years ago, according to the museum.
“It is the oldest known sculpture of two lovers," says the museum. "The genders of the figures are unclear and open to interpretation. All that remains is the reflection of their love.”
RT @BIPCNorfolk: Ain Sakhri Lovers on display at the Millennium Library as part of Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories— Libraries - Norfolk County Council (@NorfolkLibs) June 10, 2019
A British Museum Partnership Exhibition
at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, 8th June - 31st August#LGBTQpic.twitter.com/c5r6cmEhn9
Meanwhile another object, the Ladies of Llangollen, remembers the story of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, who fled Ireland together in 1778.
They set up home in north Wales, “challenging the conventions of the era — and living the life of their choice there for 50 years,” according to the museum.
Recognition and celebration of LGBTQ history is a vital component of helping to improve representation today too. For Ruth Hunt, the chief executive of Stonewall, "for something as established as the British Museum to get behind this is incredibly powerful."
She told the Guardian: "This project has helped spark an important conversation about how attitudes have changed and how much work there is still left to do."