The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology
The most ordinary of things: Victorian artists and the allure of the ancient Egyptian collections at the British Museum

Thursday 19 July 2018,
18.00–19.00
BP Lecture Theatre
Tickets £30
Members/Concessions £25

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When the British Museum opened its first ‘Mummy Room’ in 1837, visitors flocked to the new gallery to inspect the impressive collection of mummies and the smaller antiquities more recently acquired by the Museum. Extended to two galleries soon after, the mummy rooms remained enormously popular with museum audiences throughout the 19th century and still do to this day.

Among the many visitors who were captivated by the extensive range of domestic items displayed in these rooms were a number of prominent Victorian artists, including Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir Edward Poynter and Edwin Long. All were drawn to the humbler utilitarian objects that had survived the ravages of time, celebrating these most ordinary of things in a series of Egyptian themed paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy and other major art exhibitions. The highlight of their pictures in which the ‘manners and customs’ of the ancient Egyptians were the focus, was the emphasis on meticulously rendered household objects, many of which were copied from artefacts in the Museum. For these artists, the everyday items from Egyptian antiquity had a strong appeal because of their sheer ‘ordinariness’ and the way in which they had been so beautifully decorated by ancient artisans. With their vivid conceptions of the ancient Egyptians participating in the rituals of life, Alma-Tadema, Poynter and Long drew close attention to the material world of these ancestors, creating a highly evocative sense of their private lives.

In this lecture, Stephanie Moser, Southampton University, presents the results of a major research project on the intensive engagement that Victorian artists had with the Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum. She will argue that while artists like Alma-Tadema, Poynter and Long enlisted the objects as a means of adding interest and veracity to their visual explorations of the past, their paintings also played a highly significant role in defining the ‘lifestyle’ of the ancient Egyptians.

The lecture is accompanied by the Annual Egyptological Colloquium, Displaying Egypt.


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Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912), Pastimes in Ancient Egypt 3,000 years ago. Oil on canvas, 1863. © Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston.