Opening Night

Jaś Elsner reflects on the opening night of ‘Imagining the Divine’ at the Ashmolean Museum on 18th October 2017.

So the big day has come! We have been immersed in press views, guiding groups, donor visits, and goodness knows what from morning to a little before the 6:30 PM opening moment. How wonderful it would have been to have a doze!

The doors open. We walk in out of the cold. The museum is at its best – packed and shining.

Photo by

The crowd moves in a slow crocodile up the great staircase to the exhibition galleries.

The first visitors wend their way to Imagining the Divine. Photo by

Drinks are not allowed – those are downstairs. The show is full of people, talking, looking, peering…

A visitor gazes on a 17th-century Venetian parochet. Photo by
A visitor inspects the replica Franks Casket. Photo by

At 7:15, we have the Director’s opening speech followed by a few words from me, poised at the centre of the lower staircase. I walked to the microphone and am astonished by the extraordinary view – layers of people right up to the top, and on all sides, as well as a vast crowd below. I have never quite appreciated what an amazing space the new Ashmolean is – at least, not in this way! Of course one’s mind goes blank. Thank goodness I wrote down the names of the people I have to thank… Otherwise the wrong first name would have gone with the wrong surname, I’d have missed several and certainly failed to do it in alphabetical order!

Director of the Ashmolean, Xa Sturgis. Photo by
Prof Jaś Elsner. Photo by


It’s a wonderful party. And now the show is open. Welcome!

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