Royal Ontario Museum

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

July 7th, 2001

Toronto, a town of a half-million people, looks much like any other large town until you get down around the government center. Here we found spacious lawns bordered by bountiful flower beds. Mixed into the landscape were several old picturesque buildings which obviously had been standing a lot longer than the surrounding government support structures. One of these ancient masterpieces housed the Royal Ontario Museum which was the target of this days adventure. We found the entryway expansive with a bright gold inlaid ceiling supporting a massive stain-glass window that would have looked back out onto the front steps. There were four floors to examine, each with its own theme. We wandered through the first floor where I found a room which displayed many precious artifacts and sculptures of ancient China. Although for the most part the museum was static in nature, it possessed some of the rarest of treasures. Along with the sealed glass cases were a wondrous amount of information on placards. While observing a detailed carved model of a typical Chinese house we learned that many features of the Chinese house, including the size and decorations, were determined not by the occupant's wealth or taste, but by his rank in society. A person's rank dictated the style of house in which he lived, the clothing that he wore and the size of tomb in which he was buried. Imperial statutes (laws) ensured that he lived in the manner appropriate to his rank. In China, rank was conferred by the emperor, on anyone who passed the civil service examinations. Rank was also bestowed for personal merit. Among noble families rank could also be inherited. The figurines were spectacular. I found that the ever present glass cage affected both lighting and focus on such objects as a glazed earthenware of a guardian warrior (Lokopala) from the Tang Dynasty (695 AD-715 AD). The artifacts came in every shape and size. We found a large collection of very ornate miniature snuff bottles with magnificent micro-carvings of every description. Such possessions were the sign of those with rank. Of course snuff was a late introduction into the Chinese culture. This particular bottle dates to Tang Dynasty of the 7th to 9th century. In a display on how artifacts were packaged against breakage, we found the most delightful head from a 12 foot guardian diety again from the Tang Dynasty. This was a great model for the head on a walking stick and has been added to my collection of things to do.
On the second floor of the museum we found the Life Sciences. Every bit as complex and detailed as the best of natural history museums that we had visited. There were several skeletons of those imposing dinosaurs, castings only unfortunately.


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