THATMuse

THATKid Tuesday is a monthly dose of Art History for kids, running the 1st Tuesday of each month. In this series we’ll be blogging about different terms from the THATKid glossary we’ve created to help kids understand some of the art history terms that pop up in our hunts.

This time we’re going to look at Predella!

The Adoration of the Magi, in the Victoria & Albert Museum
From the V&A Cast courts

Predella, an Italian word, is the name given to the decorative panel below a painting or carving. Often this was used to tell the life story of a main character in several different scenes.  A good example is this cast of The Adoration of the Magi, which is in the Victoria & Albert Museum (and also a THATMuse treasure!).

If you look closely you can see the figures underneath the large scene; these form the Predella. This predella shows the Virgin Mary, St John the Evangelist and a host of saints and angels mourning the dead Christ. The images displayed in the predella were often a form of continuous narrative.

predella shows the Virgin Mary, St John the Evangelist and a host of saints and angels mourning the dead Christ
Here is a close-up of the predella

It’s not just on altarpieces that you can spot these; they were also popular in Renaissance era paintings.

Any questions about Predella? Please leave any comments or queries below!

The idea for THATKid Tuesday stemmed from the Kid Pack’s glossary. The Kid Pack has supplemental exercises for after your Louvre hunt, from a Michelangelo Connect-the-Dots and a Mona Lisa sticker-puzzle to a Botticelli Spot-the-Difference. Good for train rides or long French dinners, kids can also pick up on some terms like composition, perspective and the lot. As THATMuse has grown to include the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert and Musée d’Orsay, THATKid Tuesday’s blog version has grown to include other examples. Tune in the first Tuesday of the month if you’d like another art history dose of THATKid.

Originally published March 13, 2018

On your THATNat at the Natural History Museum, you’ll come across lots of objects that look like skeletons. Mighty T-Rex skulls, a full Iguanodon, and winged pteranodons. But are the skeletons the same as the skulls of the mammoths and mastodons in the museum’s collection?   

It’s a tricky question – one that we will answer on the hunt, of course!   

Not all fossils are bones. Any trace of a long-dead creature can be a fossil. Footprints are fossils. Bones are fossils. Egg shells are fossils. Even droppings are fossils – and we can learn a lot from them! But don’t expect to find some dino do-do with any organic matter in it. That stuff is long gone.   

The Mantellisaurus!

Dinosaur remains are millions of years old, and none actually have any cell tissue in them anymore. They aren’t, well, bones. They are simply mineral replications of the bones that they once were. They have the shape and form of bone, but they are essentially rocks. There is a particular process that leads to these bones becoming the fossils you see today.   

This process is called petrification. If you can remember that you’ll have some bonus points in your pocket for the THATMuse Dinosaurs and Extinct Beasts treasure hunt!

Just in time for Easter, we’ll be celebrating these creatures by bringing them back to life, even if just in our imaginations!

By Bryan Pirolli

Meet Archaeopteryx, the most valuable fossil in the Natural History Museum! 

Archaeopteryx type specimen fossil in the Natural History Museum

Pronounced Ark-ee-op-ter-ix, this is believed to be the earliest bird ever discovered. This fossil was found in Germany in 1861, just two years after Darwin had published On the Origin of Species. This helped prove the value of his ideas. Never before had such a clear link between the animals of today and extinct creatures been discovered. It has teeth and claws like many dinosaurs yet is covered in feathers and seemed adapted to flight. Some people found its discovery so incomprehensible they thought it must be an angel!  

Paleoart of Archaeopteryx sat on a branch
What Archaeopteryx might have looked like.

This fossil is so well preserved it has been designated the ‘type specimen’ for the species. This means it is the best version we have in the world and all other possible Archaeopteryx finds are compared to this one. It seems the creature fell onto a muddy riverbank and was quickly covered up with another level of thick clay like mud, preserving it intact and flat.  

Bird Brained?

Recent studies have also managed to 3D map the inside of its skull. Bird brains are squeezed so tightly inside their skulls that it leaves an imprint of the shape of the brain on the inside of the bone over time. By reconstructing Archaeopteryx’s brain they could see it had a big enough brain to actually fly, not just glide or flap about. It had excellent eyes and co-ordination just like modern birds.  

Sinornithosaurus, a flightless feathered Chinese dinosaur
Sinornithosaurus, a flightless feathered Chinese dinosaur

Recent fossil discoveries in China have also shown many more dinosaurs with feathers. Not for flight but for display and for warmth. It could be that many more dinosaurs we know were covered in feathers, and looked more like giant chickens than the scary creatures we picture today! In February 2020 the Royal Mint released a series of 50p coins with british dinosaurs on them. Drawn by real scientist paleoartists, one depicts the Megalosaurus with a coat of feathers! 

Originally published March 22, 2018

The Beatles had a famous song (at least one) where they sang, “Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes, and she’s gone.” They were not talking about the Lucy you’ll meet on your THATNat hunt at the Natural History Museum in London, (but she was named after this song!) but imagine this tiny human living many, many years ago. She probably had a few happy moments, with sun in her eyes. Or at least we like to think so. Lucy was not a human; however, she was not an ape either. So, what was she?

Discovered in Ethiopia, Lucy belongs to a group of pre-human creatures called Australopithecus. There is a lot of speculation about her, but scientists are pretty sure that she is a female – because of her pelvic bone – and that she walked upright like a human. This was a big deal back in the 1970s.

Today we know more about our early ancestors, but of course it’s hard to know a whole lot about Lucy, who lived around 3.2 million years ago. We learn a lot from her, especially from teeth – of which Lucy has precious few left. You’ll find out more during the THATNat huntDinosaurs and Extinct Beasts.

Keep this blog in mind if you want to have a few bonus points in your pocket when you arrive!