WE’re back and feeling blue!

BRLSI – is pronounced brill see! Ever heard of it?

Well the initials stand for the grand-sounding Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution – a body housed behind a three bay Neo-Grecian facade on the west side of Queen Square.

It’s all very imposing but there is nothing stuffy or out-of-reach about what has been described an an independent treasure, and educational charity, which exists to promote science, literature and art for people of all ages!

Under normal circumstances, BRLSI runs a programme of more than 150 public lectures each year of topics including science, philosophy, art and literature.

It also maintains collections of minerals, fossils and other items, as well as a library of rare books. The BRLSI’s Jenyns Room is one of Bath’s leading gallery spaces with a year-round programme of art and museum exhibitions.

Now – after a lengthy COVID 19 lockdown – the doors are about to re-open to members AND the general public. It’s happening on September 1st and there’s a new and free exhibition to welcome you in.

It’s called Take Five – and links in with an on-line social media presence too – in a combined effort to show people something of the rich diversity contained within the institutions historic collection of objects brought together over the last 200 years.

And that’s how ‘#TakeFive’ arose. Each week five objects from the BRLSI Collections, library and archives are selected, connected by a theme. The theme links seemingly disparate objects through a fascinating common narrative. They’ve completed eighteen themes so far – among them Cats, Food, Extinct, Music, Armour, Belief, Archaic, Dragons, and Ice Age. 

How does this work? Take the theme ‘Blue’… this colour evokes powerful visual associations for us, from the ultramarine hues of the Virgin Mary’s drapery, the indigo funerary robes of Tutankhamun, the intense cobalt glazes of the Sevres pottery. So many subtle variations of the same colour. This was a problem Charles Darwin struggled with halfway across the world, as he sought to record the birds, fishes and plants he collected during his voyage on the ‘Beagle’. He needed to come up with an accurate description while the specimen was still fresh and before the colours faded. 

The solution lay in a book Darwin took with him, Werner’s ‘Nomenclature of Colours’; there is a copy in the Historic Library of BRLSI. Resembling an early version of a Pantone swatch book, it contains 110 hand-painted colour swatches. Each colour is accompanied by examples of how the pigments occur in nature – animal, vegetable and mineral. We chose to show a page of blues – and you can see how No 25, ‘Prussian Blue’, is described as occurring as the ‘beauty spot’ on the wing of a mallard, the stamen of a bluish purple Anemone, and a blue copper ore.

With this book in hand, Darwin was able to accurately define the colours by applying Werner’s methodical system. When he returned home, the naturalists and illustrators who were charged with preparing his discoveries for print could refer to the book for clarification.

Together, the Collections Manager, and a host of volunteers, searched for other eye-catching manifestations of ‘Blue’ in the Collections and came up with: an early illustration of the Sacred Kingfisher of Australia by the distinguished bird illustrator Prideaux John Selby, a specimen of the mineral labradorite which emits flashes of colour (said by the Inuit to be the Aurora Borealis trapped inside), a glowing fifteenth century cobalt-glazed tile from Iran, and a Cantonese fan of brilliant blue feathers.

This approach of grouping objects under a particular theme has endless potential. With a growing digital archive of over 20,000 photographs of collections objects, the narratives that can be drawn out from a selected group of five is only limited by the energy, imagination, and scholarship of the researchers.

Every week there is a new posting on the BRLSI Instagram and Facebook pages featuring five images and captions – so do have a look.  

And now that BRLSI is reopening, an exhibition has been installed in Queen Square with some of the work on show. 

#TakeFive, a free exhibition, opens 1st September, Monday-Friday 10.00-16.00

Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution, 16 Queen Square, Bath, BA1 2HN


NB. No pre booking required. Capacity will be managed at the door, although there is capacity for more, only 12 people at a time will walk around the exhibition space on the specially-provided markers installed to maintain social distance.

All visitors are expected to wear masks and stewards will be wearing visors. 

BRLSI is also taking part in the annual Heritage Open Days celebrations designed to shine a light on our heritage institutions and the wealth of offerings they bring, and though this year provides more of a challenge for museums and galleries than is usual, BRLSI are going digital and bringing the best of what they do to you online.

This exciting virtual event will be launching online on Saturday 12th September.

BRLSI will be running a series of films and interactive sessions via their website. www.brlsi.org, including:

  • ➢  Equatorial Rain Forests in Bath – A live virtual lecture at 2pm with Professor Maurice Tucker-tickets throughEventbrite!
  • ➢  ‘What on Earth is it?‘ Nature identifying session for families via the local studies section of the BRLSI website. Readings of Important Letters in BRLSI’s collection from Charles Darwin-to friend, Bath clergyman-naturalist Leonard Jenyns, in 1860, which followed the publication a few weeks previously of Darwin’s ground-breaking book ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ (published 1859).
  • ➢  Getting Inside an Ichthyosaur’s Skull- BRLSI present a video about how an exquisitely preserved Ichthyosaur skull of the genus Hauffiopteryx has been studied using modern scientific techniques.
  • ➢  PowerPoints for Geographers- ‘Erosion Surfaces Hidden in Plain Sight’ and ‘Watch the River Undermining Riverbank Trees’.
  • ➢  Film of Show of Strength Theatre Company’s Sheila Hannon celebrating the writing of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ in Bath.
  • ➢  A Sneak Peek at our upcoming exhibition ‘Take Five’.
  • ➢  Videos celebrating life Behind the Scenes of a Museum.
  • ➢  BRLSI’s exhibition Take 5 will be open on weekdays across Heritage Open Days fortnight and beyond and is free to all.All this and much, much more!All online activities take place or find release on Saturday 12 September between 10am and 4pmBooking Details

No booking required for events other than Equatorial Rain Forests in Bath.

Maurice Tuckers lecture should be booked through Eventbrite early to avoid disappointment.