... AS SEEN BY MARINA WARNER
My father Esmond Warner, who was a keen member of the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, was an old-fashioned Englishman who believed conversation was the lifeblood of civilisation; when I was a child I could always tell where he was because his voice would be booming out a stream of anecdotes, punctuated by gusts of laughter (that would sometimes overwhelm the story and prevent it from coming to a conclusion at all).
Sir Robert became a legendary familiar in my childhood for his habits and eccentricities. When he died in 1953 aged 77, he left his collection to the museum, and I used to go with my father to the Fitzwilliam to visit the Egyptian antiquities. He would point out the bronzes Sir Robert Hyde Greg had given, and repeat with a chuckle. ‘Sir Robert always said, ‘Look how my things gleam! That is because I dust them myself every day - with a goose wing.’’ [See for example the little bronze Isis suckling Horus, E.68.1954; or the copper alloy version, E.122.1954; and the sweet Harpocrates with his finger to his lips, E.80.1954.] I would imagine an aged aesthete in oriental dressing gown and fez carefully moving through his villa near the Pyramids of Giza, lovingly tending to his precious collection – and somehow the feathers of his chosen method matched the long swooping wings I could see on the lovely birds painted on the mummy cases and unfurled by protective goddesses in the Egyptian heaven.
I also like the less precious materials the Egyptians used for their amulets – faience and the wonderfully named glassware called ‘frit’, which they infused with subtle tints of azure and verdigris. Today’s shoddy shops of the New Age with their trade in magic haven’t entirely ruined for me the elegant graphics of the wadjet eye – also known as the eye of Horus [e.g. E.113.1921 and E.118.1921] – or of the ankh symbol of life – both of them talismans which appear on necklaces threaded with cats and hippos and crocodiles and other creatures in order to draw on their skills and strength to keep harm away from the wearer.
Marina Warner FBA FRSL (b. 1946)
Born to an English father and Italian mother in London in 1946, Marina Warner grew up in Cairo, Brussels and Cambridge. She then read Modern Languages at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. A writer of criticism, fiction and history, Warner has a major interest in female myth and symbols and now is professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex, where she teaches on fairy tales and other forms of narrative.
The author of The Dragon Empress: Life and Times of T'su-hsi 1835-1908 (1972), Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (1976) and Queen Victoria’s Sketch Book (1979), Warner was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1985. Her novel The Lost Father, a romance about the dream of America in Italy during the Fascist era, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1988 and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and PEN / Macmillan Silver Pen Award in 1989. Warner has also written for children, The Impossible Day (1981) and The Wobbly Tooth (1984), as well as the libretto for the children’s opera The Legs of the Queen of Sheba, produced by English National Opera in 1991. She also regularly contributes articles, essays and reviews to newspapers, journals and artists' catalogues.
In 1994, Warner became the only second woman to deliver the BBC's Reith Lectures, published as Managing Monsters: Six Myths of Our Time. A critical analysis of the workings of myth in contemporary society, she focussed on the entertainment industry and the political world, in particular. A member of the Literature Panel at the Arts Council of England from 1992 to 1998, and a member of the committee of PEN from 2001 to 2004, she was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 2000 and the Stella della Solidarietà in Italy in 2003. Warner was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2005.
Marina Warner lives in London. Her son, Conrad Shawcross, is a sculptor.
M. Warner, The Dragon Empress: Life and Times of T'su-hsi 1835-1908, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972
M. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976
M. Warner, Queen Victoria’s Sketch Book, Macmillan, 1979
M. Warner, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1981
M. Warner, The Impossible Day, Methuen, 1981
M. Warner, The Wobbly Tooth, André Deutsch, 1984
M. Warner, Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985
M. Warner, The Lost Father, Chatto & Windus, 1988 - shortlisted for the Booker Prize, 1988 and winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize and PEN / Macmillan Silver Pen Award, 1989
M. Warner, Managing Monsters: Six Myths of Our Time (Reith Lectures), Vintage, 1994
M. Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairytales and Their Tellers, Chatto and Windus, l994
M. Warner, The Inner Eye: Art beyond the Visible, National Touring Exhibitions, 1996
M. Warner, No Go the Bogeyman: Scaring, Lulling and Making Mock, Chatto & Windus, 1999
M. Warner, The Leto Bundle, Chatto & Windus, 2001
M. Warner, Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, Oxford University Press, 2002
M. Warner, Signs & Wonders: Essays on Literature & Culture, 2003
M.Warner, Only Make-Believe Compton Verney, 2004
M. Warner, Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media. Oxford University Press, 2006