The British Museum

I started off in the Egyptian part of the Museum, which houses the largest ancient Egyptian collection outside Cairo, and found myself before the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone is from the Ptolemaic Period, 196 BC. It was discovered in 1799 at Rashid (Rosetta), a harbour on the Mediterranean coast in Egypt renamed by the French during Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Egypt. It had been moved there in the fifteenth century to be reused as part of a fortress, after Christianity spread to Egypt. It entered the British Museum in 1802 as part of the Treaty of Alexandria The text of the Rosetta Stone is a decree from Ptolemy V describing the repealing of various taxes and instructions to erect statues in temples. It contains the same text in 2 Egyptian languages and also in classical Greek. In this way, experts were able to decode the ancient Egyptian language.

This lion statue in the central courtyard of the Museum once sat at the top of a building and weighs 7 tons. It once had a much fiercer look, with shining jewelled eyes and a fuller jaw. Its softer look appealed to me and reminded me of the lion in the Wizard of Oz.

This two-handled amphora decorated with black figures was made by the celebrated Athenian vase-producer Execias circa 540 BC. It depicts the death of the Amazon Queen, Penthesileia at the hands of the Greek hero, Achilles during the Trojan War. The tragedy of the scene, which represents the couple’s falling in love at the very moment of Penthesileia’s death, is captured skillfully by the artist.

The Leyly sculpture on the left is of Venus (Aphrodite) from the 2nd century AD, and shows the Goddess surprised by a mortal while bathing.

From 1500-1070 BC, (Early 18th Dynasty-New Kingdom) royal figures were no longer buried in pyramids. This is of a queen whose mummified body is inside the rock-cut tomb with the statue on the top. They were found in the Valley of Kings, known as “Set Maat”: Place of Truth.

Preserved by the desert in a shallow grave

The Gneiss Sphinx is from the Twelfth Dynasty of Ammenemes IV, 1795 BC. The face was reworked during the Roman period.

From the area of the current Iraq, this ancient statue in blue and gold of a goat eating leaves, is one of my favourite pieces from the Museum.

Yamantaka Vajrabhairava is a fierce Buddhist deity for overcoming evil and death. He is a frightening manifestation of Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Knowledge Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), he became the tutelary deity of the Dalai Lamas and of the dGelugs Pa schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Here he is shown embracing Vajravarahi, his wisdom partner, representing the spiritual passion for Enlightenment. It dates from the reign of the Chinese Emperor Jiaqing (1796-1820).

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