Queen of the Night comes into the light

THE star of any show needs time to settle in to her luxury suite so that she looks her best when the champagne starts flowing and the curtain is raised.

In that respect, the Queen of the Night, a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian terracotta goddess, is no different from today’s A-listers. This weekend, she will leave her permanent home at the British Museum to make her first appearance in Scotland at the Burrell Collection - the start of a series of UK "weekend breaks".

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: "She is quite demanding in her travel arrangements. Like all celebrities, she prefers to travel incognito. Her suite will be prepared for her, and she has her entourage. We hope she’ll be very happy with her suite at the Burrell."

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A special case has been made to transport her. On arrival at her destination, it will become the base on which she is displayed.

However, Frances Carey, the head of national programmes at the British Museum, who has been organising her trip, said the 19-inch-tall goddess is remarkably strong. "She has to travel flat, with jolting minimised as much as possible, but she is made of baked clay, which is actually a very robust substance. That’s one of the reasons she has survived for 4,000 years."

Made in the reign of King Hammurabi in Babylon, she dates from between 1800 and 1750 BC.

Mr MacGregor described her as "one of the first great achievements of art, in miraculously good condition".

The Queen of the Night, originally known as the Burney Relief, was brought to Britain in the 1920s, when Iraq was under British rule.

In 1933 the British Museum tried - but failed - to buy her. It was thwarted again when she came up for sale in the 1970s. But with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund, it succeeded in buying her last year for 1.5 million from a Japanese collector who kept her in a London bank vault.

The Queen of the Night’s "weekend break tour", visiting Glasgow, Sunderland and Leicester, launches a partnership scheme in which the British Museum will lend out some of its treasures to regional museums, one of the ideas developed by Mr MacGregor since he took over as director in September 2002.

He has presided over a remarkable transformation at the museum, from a debt-ridden institution on the brink of collapse to a streamlined organisation able to celebrate its 250th anniversary last June in style.

"We have been thinking about what it meant to create the British Museum in 1753.

"The Queen of the Night is the major acquisition for our anniversary, and we wanted to take it rapidly round the country to give lots of people the chance to see it. The Burrell seemed the obvious place to start."

The weekend visit will launch a long-term partnership with Glasgow Museums which will result in a significant loan from the British Museum’s Egyptian collection when the Kelvingrove flagship reopens.

• The Queen of the Night will be at the Burrell until tomorrow.