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Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

April 21, 2013

Like other museums I have visited, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is located in a gorgeous building. You’d almost forget you’re there for the collection!

It happened to be my lucky day.
As I live 188 miles north east of Bristol I had to plan this carefully. And so it happened I was there when the temporary exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt was on and temporary exhibition Pharaoh: reborn. Shortly after arriving I was told there were short tours to the store as well, which I of course could not resist.

Storage tour
The tour of the store was the first thing I did. It was led by Sue Giles. She had taken a few items from storage to show to small groups of visitors and explain something about what they are.
Thanks to the woodworking demonstration at the Manchester Museum earlier this year I immediately recognised two of the items on the table: mallets. It is very clear that one of these has been used thoroughly.

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We were shown, among other things, two lids of canopic jars, a few figurines (one was shockingly bright due to cleaning some time ago, the others are still black), a very old (approx. 100 years!) tourist souvenir and two fragments with relief. It was the relief shown on the photo below that I noticed, because the colour is still very much visible, even after all this time. That is something which never ceases to amaze me.

Small part of relief
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The tour was meant to take 30 minutes, but we didn’t emerge until 55 minutes had passed. Sue was very generous and also gave information on things which were not on the table. For example, there was a black rimmed pot on one of the shelves and she explained how the black rim is made. Apparently it is not intentional, but this occurs when the still hot pot is put upside down in sawdust. The sawdust then attaches itself to the pot. Being incredibly bad at anything which even remotely smells like science I was unaware of what happens when something burns without oxygen, but apparently, this is it. Good to know!

Pharaoh: King of Egypt
Pharaoh: King of Egypt is the title of a tour consisting of Egyptian artefacts which are usually in storage at the British Museum. Now, the British Museum is my favourite museum and they have a lot of beautiful things on display, but I found it slightly shocking to see what beautiful items usually don’t get displayed! On top of that photography is not allowed at this temporary exhibition. Fortunately there is a book, written by Margaret Maitland, curator in Egyptology at the British Museum and Great North Museum: Hancock.
The touring exhibition focuses on the Pharaoh – the king of ancient Egypt and what it may have been like to be king in that time and that country.

There is a lot involved in being a king, as in any country. The king of Egypt had so many roles, so many names and so many duties. They had to maintain order in the country (whether it was unified at the time or not), follow religion (and be seen doing it), fight battles, etc. Thankfully there are many statues, reliefs, paintings and papyri left to give us a bit of an idea. The items in this touring exhibition give a glimpse into the life of an Egyptian king and the book is a lovely complement to it.

If you still want to see it you have until 21 July 2013. Bristol is the tour’s last stop.

Pharaoh: reborn
While reading Belzoni’s book on his travels I was very disappointed to find his ‘plates’ were not included in the edition I had bought. I had seen some on the internet and in various books and found them very beautiful.
I was therefore very happy to find out Bristol Museum has some of these in their collection. They are currently on display (until 29 September 2013).

The temporary exhibition focuses on the tomb of Seti I.
Belzoni and his team painstakingly made copies of the decorations they saw and they truly are stunning.

Detail from scene "Priest, Sety with Ptah-Sokaris, Sety with Geb, and a soul of Nekben"
Detail from scene “Priest, Sety with Ptah-Sokaris, Sety with Geb, and a soul of Nekben” – showing the priest
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It’s hard to imagine that these watercolours were created in the early 19th century somewhere in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. I can’t imagine the lighting conditions were much better than they would have been when the tomb was decorated.

I believe I have seen the plan of Seti I’s tomb before, but now I could see the original, which is unfortunately slightly damaged.

Plan of Sety I's tomb
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The temporary exhibition is located in a fairly small room, but these watercolours don’t need a lot of space. They are still very vibrant and are, of course, very detailed – like the original decorations they are based on. They are an absolute treat and I would recommend any visitor to this museum to go to the second floor and have a look.

The permanent collection
The original reason I wanted to visit Bristol Museum is the fact they have Egyptian artefacts.
The bulk of information on the artefacts on display is available via touchscreens. Some of them didn’t seem to work (or these screens simply don’t like my fingers), so I miss some additional information. Thankfully the museum has an excellent website with information on their collections, so I think I’ll eventually be able to find the information I want.

The display is very diverse, but unfortunately also very dark. Having said that, it does create an unusual atmosphere which I rather like.

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Rather than grouping items in chronological order the items have been grouped by theme (e.g. life, death, religion). A result is that you can see items from times which are very far apart on the same shelf (click on the photo for further information).

Vase, toy horse, bowl and jar
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Overall the way this collection is displayed is, in my opinion, very stylish and quite different here and there. For example, there is a death mask which is placed in the middle of a display and can be seen from both sides. Not only can you walk around and see both the back and the front easily, you can look through the glass on either side and see a larger area of the room. It makes the room look bigger than it is and makes best use of the little light available.

All in all, I very much enjoyed my visit to the Bristol Museum. I went home with 21 reasonably successful photos and a lot of new information to digest.


From → Museum visits

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