UK hosts big Byzantium show, some exhibits delayed

Tue Oct 21, 2008 2:12pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - A major London exhibition on the Byzantine Empire gathers more than 340 priceless artifacts from around the world, many of them so rare and fragile that they are unlikely ever to travel again.

"Byzantium 330-1453" is the latest blockbuster show at the Royal Academy of Arts, and hundreds of thousands of people are expected to pour through the show's thematically arranged rooms between October 25 and March 22 next year.

At a press preview on Tuesday, some of the most treasured artifacts had yet to arrive ahead of Saturday's opening, including icons from the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai and pieces from Russian collections.

Charles Saumarez Smith, chief executive and secretary of the Royal Academy, said he was confident most of the missing works would be in their display cases in time for the opening.

"It's probably inevitable that one or two end up not being quite as straightforward as we would have liked," he said.

Adrian Locke, acting head of exhibitions at the academy, called "Byzantium" "one of the most complicated exhibitions we've put together in recent years," describing the task of collecting treasures from 85 lenders as a "monumental task."

The Royal Academy was still waiting for the signature of the Egyptian minister of culture needed to release the icons from the Monastery at Sinai, a delay that reflects concern over the fragility of the works.

Academy officials said they doubted whether the icons, and two priceless pieces from the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, would ever be allowed to travel again.   Continued...

<p>Silhouettes are seen behind a bust of Constantine the Great during the press view of the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, in London October 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning</p>