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Gold Fever: London Debuts Once-in-a-Lifetime Exhibit

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There may be few places as exciting as London this summer.  First, there is that small, international sports event known as the Olympics, starting in late July.  Second, the London 2012 Festival, an olympiad of arts and culture of unprecedented scale—more than 25,000 artists from all 204 competing Olympic nations participating in 12,000 events and performances throughout the UK—spans the period June 21 to September 9 and involves the widest range of music, theater, dance, art, film, and then some. 

And while the Queen's jubilee year hovers over all these proceedings like a benevolent as well as royal presence, perhaps the most spectacular show in town is at the Goldsmith's Hall, a magnificent, neoclassical palazzo, northeast of St. Paul's Cathedral, where "Gold: Power and Allure, 4,500 Years of Gold Treasures from Across Britain" (through July 28) offers visitors a dazzling opportunity to consider the beauty and this most fabled, precious metal.

David Lamb, the managing director of the World Gold Council, gives T+L an overview of the splendid display:

"This exhibition literally could never be repeated. The story of Britain itself is told through almost 500 objects of gold. From the apparatus of Church and State—like the ampulla containing sacred oil to anoint the breast of King Charles—to the playthings of potentates—such as a tiny gold clockwork mouse created to scamper across the table of a Rothschild. Nuggets of gold nestle next to coins from every monarch who issued one.

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The earliest gold jewels ever found in Britain—extraordinary crescent-shaped necklaces called lunula from Bronze Age warrior-chieftains can be contrasted with the latest fabulous pieces commissioned especially for the exhibition by the World Gold Council. Wright and Teague's 'Pleiades' collars (pictured above), seven concentric circles of gold inscribed with Wordsworth couplets, take their inspiration from the first lunula—theirs is a jewel for a modern Boadicea. And Polly Gasston's "Wreath" (pictured, top) is inspired in turn by Olympic laurels, but made instead of leaves and buttercups torn from English hedgerows, delicate, ethereal, a crown for an English Princess.

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Finally, days away from London's Olympics, you can see medals from the 1912 games, the last time when gold medals were made of gold (today's are simply plated, with a gold content of just 1.3%). Here in the hall where "hallmarking" was actually invented (in the early 1300's, people first took their gold and silver to this very livery "hall" to be 'marked'), only one object, a 400 troy ounce bar on loan from the World Gold Council, has a precise value—though it changes by the minute. Everything else is priceless.  But the exhibition is free."

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Mario Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure.

 

 

Photos credits: Robert Wyatt (top, middle); Richard Valencia (bottom)

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