Quotes by: Neil MacGregor
OM AO FSA
MacGregor at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015
||Robert Neil MacGregor
16 June 1946
||The Glasgow Academy, Scotland
||New College, Oxford
École Normale Supérieure
University of Edinburgh
Courtauld Institute of Art
||Art historian and museum director
While there are few records of Viking women participating in battle, they certainly held positions of high status in society as human sorceresses known as 'volvas.'
Objects let you tell a narrative that encompasses everybody. Texts don't.
Google the name Prometheus, and see how often it has been given to innovations in many different fields, notably science, medicine and space exploration. The fire he stole can be seen, too, as the spark generating all artistic creativity.
The British Museum was founded with a civic purpose: to allow the citizen, through reasoned inquiry and comparison, to resist the certainties that endanger free society and are still among the greatest threats to our liberty.
The deciphering of ancient scripts changed forever the way Europeans were able to imagine the story of humanity, destroying centuries of received authority about the past with repercussions as important for our understanding of time and history as the geological studies of the same period.
It is a standing source of astonishment and amusement to visitors that the British Museum has so few British things in it: that it is a museum about the world as seen from Britain rather than a history focused on these islands.
There's the constant concern with what happens to you when you die. Every society thinks about that and makes things to deal with that.
If you are born in 1564, your dislocation from your parents' experience is very profound. You are the first generation who will have had all your religious experience in English, the first to have a countryman circumnavigate the globe. All the power and economic structures of the world are changing around you.
Saddam Hussein was fascinated by ancient Babylon and Assyria. He made money available to protect and develop the great archaeological sites. The great achievements of Mesopotamian civilisation were pressed into the service of the Ba'athist regime.
A collection that embraces the whole world allows you to consider the whole world. That is what an institution such as the British Museum is for.
The collapse of the Tower of Babel is perhaps the central urban myth. It is certainly the most disquieting. In Babylon, the great city that fascinated and horrified the Biblical writers, people of different races and languages, drawn together in pursuit of wealth, tried for the first time to live together - and failed.
For many, the icon of the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone, that administrative by-product of the Greek imperial adventure in Africa.
The Louvre stopped buying paintings in 1848, and neither the Metropolitan nor the Hermitage acquire contemporary material.
Prometheus - trickster, rebel and hero - links the realm of the gods with the world of humanity, with which he had such close affinity. His act of stealing fire has been viewed as the foundation of all man's technologies.
Hardest of all for Europeans to negotiate are traditional African religions, whose transactions with unseen powers are central to the running of life in many areas, the main weapon in the struggle against the forces of evil.
I feel I understand now why, whenever there are revolutions, Shakespeare is what people turn to. Because whenever a society is on the cusp, about to become something else, they find themselves in Shakespeare.
London theatre is different: it is a commercial theatre that brings the whole of society into one place. And Shakespeare grasped, better than anyone else, what it means to engage the entire audience.
Because of the long, long history of British shipping, immigration, trade, empire, missionaries, you can have a better shot at telling a worldwide story in the British Museum's collection than any other. Britain has been more connected with the rest of the world than any other country, for longer.
The things we make have one supreme quality - they live longer than us. We perish, they survive; we have one life, they have many lives, and in each life they can mean different things. Which means that, while we all have one biography, they have many.
There is not much we can say with absolute confidence about the early church, but we can be fairly sure that the first Christians would not have dreamed of making a likeness of Jesus.
In 1600, when Shakespeare's audience at the Globe heard 'Hamlet' for the first time, every one of them knew very well what it meant to be handed a cup of wine by a figure of authority and told to drink.
Our collective memories are welcoming places, and one image, that of Jesus, has absorbed and appropriated elements of other traditions and aspirations in order to shape our communal remembering.
The distinction between a gallery and a museum is enormous. The gallery is about looking at a thing of beauty; the purpose of the activity is an aesthetic response. The museum is actually about the object that lets you get into somebody else's life.
The focus in the Western pictorial tradition is on the body of Christ, the bit you can paint, the Nativity and the infancy, but above all the Passion, where you can find images for every stage and every moment.