A sculpture of an iron ship, sailing into the afterlife has appeared in the British Museum, a work of art by Grayson Perry.
It’s a homage to all the artists through history who are unnamed – their art remains but their identity does not. The notion of art being associated with a specific artist is comparatively recent development — in the past, the patron was far more important than the employee doing the work.
So museums are packed full of ancient art and no one has the faintest idea who made it, only who it was made for.
Hence the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.
The ship is hung with hand-made replicas of British Museum objects, representing crafts made through history – by forgotten men and women – which have survived into the present day.
You can either look closely at it, spying maybe occasionally familiar items – the Lewis Chessmen stood out for me — or stand back and look at the whole, a being not unlike some ghostly phantom ship of Arabian tales.
There are in fact four Tombs of the Unknown Craftsman created by Grayson Perry, but this version was unfinished until now, and only completed during the lockdown ahead of being shown off in the British Museum.
Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman sits in front of the Nereid monument – itself a tomb, that was built in around 380 BC for Erbinna, ruler of Lycia. Stylistic details reveal that the sculptures were carved by different artists, but their names are now also lost to history.
The exhibit is in the British Museum’s room 17, just outside the Parthenon Marbles and is on display for an unconfirmed amount of time.