Canal-MuseumDescend into ice wells at the London Canal Museum; delve into the archaeological archives of the Egypt Exploration Society; discover the history of the Spitalfields Charnel House; and, tour the remains of London’s Roman military fort with experts from the Museum of London. The British Festival of Archaeology kicked off last weekend and there’s a plethora of events happening across London as part of the more than 1,000 taking place across the country. For a full programme of events – many of which are free – head to www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk. The festival runs until 26th July.

Follow Alice down the rabbit hole in a new exhibition which opened at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury yesterday. Marking the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication, Alice in Cartoonland looks at how cartoonists, caricaturists, satirists, animators and graphic artists adapted and used author Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodson) and original illustrator John Tenniel’s work in social and political commentaries as well as just to have fun. The display features posters, cartoon strips, comic and graphic novels and artwork from TV and film versions of Alice with Low, Vicky, Shepard, Steadman and Gilroy among the artists represented. Runs until 1st November (with some events held in conjunction with it). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

Exploring the National Gallery’s art collection is usually done with the eyes but thanks to an innovative project which kicked off last week, it’s now also about listening. A series of contemporary sound artists and musicians including Nico Muhly, Gabriel Yared, Susan Philipsz, Jamie xx, Chris WatsonJanet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have created sounds and musical pieces in response to works they have chosen from the gallery’s collection. Selected works include the late 14th century The Wilton Diptych (Muhly), Hans Holbein’s 1533 painting The Ambassadors (Philipsz) and Paul Cézanne’s painting Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (Yared). Soundscapes runs until 6th September in the Sainsbury Wing. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Built in the 16th century for King Henry VIII, Bridewell Palace only had a short-lived life as a royal residence before it was handed over to the City of London and used as a poorhouse and prison.

Located on the western bank of the Fleet River (the site is now occupied by Unilever House and remembered in the place names of Bridewell Place and Bridewell Court), the palace – named for a holy well located nearby which was dedicated to St Bride  (St Brigid) – was built on the direction of the king’s key advisor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey between 1510-15 on land which had previously been the site of St Bride’s Inn.

In 1515 Cardinal Wolsey gave it to King Henry VIII after taking up residence at Hampton Court and York Place  – Henry was looking for a royal residence in London after the Palace of Westminister was largely destroyed in a fire in 1512. Work continued on the palace until its completion in 1523.

The palace, the site of which is now marked with a plaque on the approach to Blackfriars Bridge, consisted of two courtyards surrounded by brick buildings with the three storey royal lodgings (separate quarters for the king and queen) located around the inner courtyard and entered by a grand staircase from the outer courtyard. It also featured a watergate was located on the Thames and, interestingly, Bridewell was the first royal palace not to have its own great hall.

Among historic events hosted here was the visit of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1522 (the emperor did not stay here but his entourage did). In 1528 meetings of the papal delegation took place at Blackfriars (located next door and joined by a specially built gallery) to discuss the king’s divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon – it’s here that the Queen made her most famous speech declaring her fidelity to the king – and for its duration the king and queen lodged at Bridewell. It’s also said that it was at Bridewell Palace that artist Hans Holbein the Younger painted his famous work – The Ambassadors (see our earlier post on this here).

Following Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from favor in 1529, King Henry VIII no longer used the property (he took over the Palace of Whitehall, then known as York Place, as his main residence in 1530 – for more on this see our earlier post here). It was leased for much of the following decade to the French ambassador in London before, following petitioning for a new hospital for the poor from Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of London, King Edward VI gave it to the City of London in 1553. They took over fully in 1556 and converted the palace into a prison, hospital and workrooms (we’ll deal in detail with the prison in an upcoming post).

A stunning portrait on a grand scale, The Ambassadors depicts two influential figures from the 16th century – Jean de Dinteville, the then 29-year-old French ambassador to England and Georges de Selve, the then 25-year-old bishop of Lavaur and sometime French ambassador to the Emperor, the Venetian Republic and the Holy See.

The oil on oak work, which is housed in room four of the National Gallery and is also one of the images featured online as part of the Google Art Project, was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1533 and is meant as a portrait to show the men’s power, learning and wealth – they are surrounded by objects which include celestial and terrestrial globes, a portable sundial, a lute (and its case), and books including one of hymns and another of arithmetic as well as richly decorated furnishings.

Yet there’s more to this painting than initially meets the eye – a closer look reveals a distorted skull in the foreground which, when viewed from the painting’s right-hand side comes into its proper perspective. A reflection on mortality perhaps?

And though no typically viewed as a religious work, there are also some striking religious overtones to this image including a broken string on the lyre – often seen as a Christian symbol of disharmony – and, partly hidden behind the curtain on the far left of the painting as you look at it, a crucifix hanging on the wall.

Holbein painted the work during his second stint in England while depicting life at the Tudor court. Among his most famous other images are one of King Henry VIII (held in the National Portrait Gallery) and another of Christina of Denmark (also in the National Gallery – painted to show Henry VIII the image of a potential future wife although the relationship never went any further than that).

PICTURE: Ng1314, Hans Holbein the Younger, Detail of Jean de Dinteville and George de Selve (‘The Ambassadors’), 1533 © The National Gallery, London.

WHERE: Room 4, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square (nearest tube stations Leicester Square and Charing Cross); WHEN: 10am to 6pm (Fridays 10am to 9pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nationalgallery.org.uk. The image is also available online as part of the Google Art Project here:www.googleartproject.com/museums/nationalgallery/the-ambassadors.

London will celebrate Chinese New Year this Sunday as it once again hosts the largest celebrations outside of Asia attracting some 250,000 people from around the globe. The event programme, which celebrates 2011 as the Year of the Rabbit, kicks off at 11am on the main stage in Trafalgar Square with firecrackers at noon, a Lion and Dragon performance at 1.10pm and dance and song during the afternoon culminating in a finale just before 6pm. There will also be a stage in Shaftesbury Avenue with performances throughout the day. Roads in the area will be closed for the event.

You no longer have to be in London to walk through the galleries of the Tate Britain or the National Gallery. Both institutions are among 17 around the world taking part in the Google Art Project which allows web surfers to virtually “walk” around the museum using the organisation’s Street View technology and turn 360 degrees to view the artworks in situ on the walls. The project also allows viewers to look through images of more than 1,000 artworks and, in addition, each institution has selected one artwork which then captured in “super high resolution” and then placed on line (Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors‘ for the National Gallery, Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry for the Tate). See www.googleartproject.com for more.

Cyclists have ridden the distance to the moon and back 13 times – 10 million kilometres – since the launch of Mayor Boris Johnson’s cycle scheme. Transport for London released figures this week showing riders have made more than 2.5 million journeys on the “Boris bikes” since the scheme was launched six months ago. The TfL has announced plans to expand the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme to new areas of east London including all of the Borough of Tower Hamlets, North Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Bow, Canary Wharf, Mile End and Poplar by spring 2012. Almost 110,000 people are now signed up to the scheme. www.tfl.gov.uk.

The youngest Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain is to be granted the Freedom of the City of London in a special ceremony next month. Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in a front line squadron during the battle.