Saturday, 6 November 2010

Visit to Harrow School 4.11.10

This week I was privileged enough to visit the Egyptian galleries at Harrow School, Northwest London, with a group from the University of Liverpool. The Egyptian collection, containing some 900 objects, was donated to the museum in 1864 by a former pupil, Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, on the condition that it was used for the education of the schoolboys. The collection consists of objects that were purchased by Gardner Wilkinson during his travels in Egypt, together with a selection of objects from the EES excavations in the Faiyum and some objects from other private collections. His handwritten catalogues are also housed in the museum.

Painted limestone head of a sphinx. New Kingdom
The current display was designed by Dr. Ian Shaw, University of Liverpool, during the 1990's, and consists of a large, rectangular case of Egyptian objects on the ground floor and a tall case on the upper mezzanine. The collection also features Greek objects and a selection of modern British paintings; one of which can be attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, a former pupil of Harrow School.

The attitude of Gardner Wilkinson to archaeology and artefact acquisition at that time was surprisingly ahead of its time; Dr. Shaw's short catalogue of the collection preserves an excerpt of a letter from Gardner Wilkinson to the headmaster of Harrow in 1864: 

"You know how often an interesting object may afford most useful information relating to customs and dates which, if not explained, may pass unobserved. Fragments of pottery may sometimes prove or illustrate more, and be of greater importance than, an entire handsome vase - one instance of this occurs to me in a broken bottle in the Egyptian collection that many might look upon as an insignificant fragment though it enables us to correct the date generally assigned to vases of that particular style".
Funerary cone with the name of Neferhotep, 4th Prophet of Amun, from Thebes. New Kingdom

Rosette inlay tiles from from Tell el-Yahudiya. New Kingdom

Commemorative green-glazed steatite scarab of Amenhotep III. New Kingdom
Wooden hammer, mallet (Roman Period), copper alloy knife and chisel. New Kingdom

Selection of shabti-figurines. Late Period
It is this attitude towards artefact acquisition which makes the Harrow collection well worth a visit - extravagant gilded objects and fragments of stone statues are displayed together with objects of daily life, such as a stonemason's chisel, mallet and hammer, and toilet articles. The collection contains several royal objects of interest, including a painted fragment and a shabti from the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, five inlay rosettes from Tell el-Yahudiya, an unusual human-headed scaraboid with the cartouche of Tuthmosis III and one of Amenhotep III's commemorative 'Wedding' scarabs. Interestingly, a quartzite fragment from one of the Colossi of Memnon is also on display. 

Fragment from the Tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings
Gilded and painted head from a cartonnage mummy case. Ptolemaic Period
Scaraboid with the face of Tuthmosis III wearing the blue crown. New Kingdom
The collection represents sites from all over Egypt, in a variety of materials which represent the technological processes used in their production throughout the pharaonic period. Despite the fact that the display is already over ten years old, the use of suspended glass shelves and a two-tier method of displaying the objects means that it still appears quite modern to the visitor. I would like to see more of the collection on display in the future, but as it stands the current display makes good use of the space that is available, with a choice of objects that is truly representative of Gardner Wilkinson's extensive collection, and it is well worth a visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Yan Tan Tethera: A rhyme derived from a Brythonic Celtic language used by shepherds to keep sheep in many parts of England and Southern Scotland.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the use of traditional number systems was common among shepherds, especially in the Dales of the Lake District.

[This Blog is best viewed in Mozilla Firefox]

Total Pageviews