03.04.2015
14:22

St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum

Address:

North Wing, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, West Smithfield, EC1A 7BE

Phone:

020-3465 5798

Website:

www.bartshealth.nhs.uk/about-us/museums,-history-and-archives/st-bartholomews-museum

Opening times:

Tues–Fri 10:00–16:00

How to get there:

Tube: St Paul’s/Barbican

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Café (in hospital) and small bookshop

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, one of London’s major hospitals, was founded in 1123, with the Priory of St Bartholomew, by Rahere, a former courtier of Henry I. St Bartholomew appeared to him in a vision, demanding the establishment of a hospital for the poor and sick. The hospital’s small museum tells the history of this ancient charitable and medical institution, from the 12th century to the present day. Entry is through the Henry VIII gate, which leads to the hospital’s main square, built in the 18th century by James Gibbs, whose designs replaced most of the medieval architecture. The museum is under the north wing archway. On show is Rahere’s 1137 grant, an ancient document which has been at the Hospital without interruption, except perhaps at the time of the 1666 Great Fire. There are also a magnificent 1546 charter which refounded the Hospital following the dissolution of the Priory, with Henry VIII’s Great Seal; displays relating to William Harvey, the famous discoverer of the circulation of the blood, who was physician to Barts (as the hospital is popularly known) from 1609–43; and historic surgical, medical and apothecary’s equipment.

The museum’s other magnificent attraction is Gibbs’s 1730–32 North Wing, with its grand staircase leading to the vast Great Hall, the highly decorated, official and ceremonial rooms of the hospital. The staircase is decorated with large biblical New Testament scenes by William Hogarth, The Pool of Bethesda and the Good Samaritan. Hogarth carried out the work for free, and was elected a governor of the hospital in return. He wrested the commission from the Venetian artist Jacopo Amigoni (who was instrumental in persuading Canaletto to visit London) in 1734. Beyond charitable philanthropy and the desire to be a hospital governor, Hogarth had several reasons for wanting the project: Barts was personal to him, since he was born in the area; he could avenge his late father-in-law Sir James Thornhill’s humiliation at having had his great Baroque works at Moor Park replaced with those of Amigoni; he could champion the work of the British School; and he could establish himself as a serious, large-scale history painter. Hogarth himself recognised the ambitious challenge he had set himself of painting figures ‘seven foot tall’. In April 1736 the Pool of Bethesda was complete, and the Good Samaritan the following year, by July when the scaffolding was taken down. The governors thanked Hogarth for his pictures ‘which illustrate the Charity extended to the Poor, Sick and Lame of this Hospital’, which quickly became one of the sights of London. Several elements of Hogarth’s dignified scenes draw on Raphael’s ‘Acts of the Apostles’ cartoons, then at Hampton Court, now at the V&A, regarded at the time as the high point of artistic excellence. The figure of Christ, for example, is based on Raphael’s Feed My Sheep. Hogarth had also carefully observed the patients at Barts for the sick being cured by Christ (an infant with rickets, a man with gout, and an emaciated old woman). The landscape background is attributed to Hogarth’s fellow artist and friend George Lambert; the scenes are set within feigned Rococo plasterwork, executed by a Mr Richards; and below are grisaille scenes showing Rahere’s vision and establishment of the hospital, and a sick man being carried into the hospital on a stretcher.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

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