Hamlet, the melancholic Prince of Denmark

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. We previously celebrated this anniversary by exploring the four bodily humours and their effect on some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Nelly Ekström now discusses Hamlet, arguably the most famous literary melancholic. 

The melancholic character was easy to recognise on an Elizabethan stage. Lean and pale; moving slowly; sad and brooding; perhaps suspiciously looking around for enemies. Black bile, the humour that dominated this temperament, was connected to the cold and dry element earth; to old age and all things dying and rotting. Having too much of this dark and dull substance in your body would make you as dark and dull in body and mind as the humour itself.

In Shakespeare’s comedies, like The Tempest and As You Like It, there is often a melancholic figure that acts as foil to the more optimistic leading characters. But in the tragedies they are more often the leading characters, generally elderly men. Ageing was in itself seen as a process of gradual drying of the flesh and cooling of bodily humours. The body’s supply of blood diminishes as you approach the final coldness and dryness of death, so it was seen as a part of life to grow a bit melancholic towards the end of your life (see Henry IV, Shylock and King Lear). Continue reading


Oops!…I wrote a Britney blog post

How does a record breaking pop icon relate to a medical, art and science museum like Wellcome Collection? The link may (quite rightly) be tenuous, but as the singer’s ninth album is released today, our Web Editor Russell Dornan has trawled the collections in celebration, looking for any connections he could find (no matter how questionable!).

Ever since Britney Spears erupted on the pop scene in the late ’90s, she smashed records and captured the public’s imagination. I still remember her first appearance on TOTP when I was 15 and how my mind was blown. Crowned the Princess of Pop, her debut single “…Baby One More Time” reached number 1 in every country it charted and is still one of the best selling singles of all time. Continue reading


The art of medicine

Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future as a way to understand what it means to be human. In this post, Muriel Bailly explores the connections between medicine and art, discussing how their relationship can lead to a richer understanding of both. 

“Wherever the art of Medicine is loved,
there is also a love of Humanity.”
– Hippocrates

All too often, we hear that medicine is the stuff of science while art belongs to the humanities; that the two are different, if not opposite. Only a few months ago, the then-Secretary of Education Nicky Morgan encouraged young students to focus on science, as art subjects lead to unemployment. But would scientists and artists themselves agree with this common distinction between their disciplines? Continue reading


The multiple lives of States of Mind

On until 16 October, ‘States of Mind‘ explores our understanding of the conscious experience from different perspectives. The book supporting the exhibition is a collection of literature, science and art delving into the mysteries of human consciousness. The book’s editor Anna Faherty reflects on the brief and varied lives one’s creations may lead upon being released it to the world. 

Museums and galleries are curious places to work, for many reasons. One is that they provide an opportunity to observe how the target audience for something you helped create behave and what they say in the exhibition space. Surreptitious spying, or eavesdropping, on museum visitors has practical value in terms of gathering information and insight that may help improve future exhibitions, but it can also be a deeply personal experience.

It’s hard not to be emotionally affected when you observe strangers interacting with, enjoying, being confused or affronted by something you developed. Seeing that thing take on a new life, often in unexpected ways, as the experiences of visitors shape their own interaction with the exhibition, and the interactions of others, can be even more affecting. Continue reading


Contemplating the Contemporary: Text and Language based art

Contemporary art is all around us, but we often still ask: “Is it art?” In this blog series exploring how and why we make art, Guillaume Vandame looks at art in our Medicine Now gallery and beyond for Contemplating the Contemporary.

Contemporary art is dominated by issues of communication and narrative. With the rise of globalisation, advances in technology such as the Internet and advent of social media, and a wider range of diverse voices emerging, these issues related to text and language have become increasingly more complicated.

Throughout modern art history, the use of text and language based art has resulted in varied responses by artists. Following the aftermath of World War I, European artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch translated feelings of disillusionment and confusion through multi-layered collages and assemblage, sourcing found newspapers and literature as material. Continue reading


London Drawing in the Reading Room

Earlier this year, art collective London Drawing took over an area of our Reading Room to engage visitors and inspire them to get creative. The stand out activity was their Renaissance Selfies, relating to the theme of ‘face’. The co-director of the collective, Anne Noble-Partridge, tells us more about this fun, simple and effective photo opportunity.

As an artist I have always been interested in the way the frame of a photograph can remove an image from its true surroundings; the way you can play with reality through the ‘reality’ of the camera lens is fascinating.

It all started while I was on holiday in Italy, having overdosed on Italian Renaissance paintings. I whiled away a wet evening messing about taking self portrait photographs in the Renaissance style using what I had around me: an embroidered bedspread, sun visor and pillowcase. I really enjoyed the process and got quite engrossed in it. Continue reading


Would like to meet: Rob

This blog series gives you a chance to find out a little more about the people behind the desk at Wellcome Collection, the team of artists, academics, musicians, researchers, comedians and more. Among many other things, they invigilate galleries; write and provide tours and “busking” sessions; they work on exhibitions, events and special projects; and they offer information and guidance to our visitors every day. It’s all in a day’s work for our VEAs, so come and meet the team.

Nelly Ekström introduces Rob Bidder, one of our Visitor Experience Assistant (VEA) team members bringing the galleries and exhibitions to life. 

It’s time for Rob to take the stage. Rob is one of the most experienced members of the team: he’s been at Wellcome Collection about four and a half years. He calls himself a Jack of all trades and master of none; those fortunate enough to work with him know that he is in fact the master of a great many things. Continue reading