Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution at the National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum has brought new life to Samuel Pepys’ dairies in their new exhibition in Greenwich. Filled with his portraits and objects, and with quotations on every wall, they have succeeded in exploring a period of English history through the perspective of one man’s life.
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution intends to be less about exploring the past and more about contextualising the present. This is a bold aim, but one that is evident throughout. The emphasis on interactive elements and recorded media (ranging from extracts of Macbeth to a gunshot as soon as you enter) particularly reinforce this contemporary relevance. Yet, as a whole, the exhibition does not go far enough to achieve this intention.
It does, however, give a vivacious and engaging presentation of the time in which Pepys lived: a life spanning three kings, a plague and the Great Fire of London. There’s a whole section on “Scientific Enquiry”, boasting Robert Hooke’s Compound Microscope and Micrographia, and a whole row of portraits of Charles II’s many mistresses, whose biographies underneath provide insight into court life at the time. Pepys was the ultimate social climber and there seems to be no aspect of society that he left unexamined.
Many know him purely as a diarist and for choosing to save his parmesan and wine over (presumably) his wife during the Great Fire of London, but Pepys’ diaries detail a much more intuitive and ubiquitous presence. The exhibit has chosen to convey this through the use of a timeline; dates, facts and objects are organised succinctly, allowing an easy perusal through this man’s engaged and engaging life.
This is a mutable exhibition and as suited to an adult audience as a school trip. The computerised and interactive elements lend themselves towards a much younger audience, which is obviously been intentional. It is, however, not very big. Despite being crammed full of wonderful things, a thorough visit will not take more than an hour.
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution is at the National Maritime Museum from 20th November to 28th March 2016, for further information visit here