Cairo to Constantinople, The Queen’s Gallery.

The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
7th November 2014 – 22nd February 2015
Tickets: £0.00 – £9.75
#royaltour1862

A view of Egypt.

A view of Egypt.

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East documents the Prince of Wales’ (Edward VII) grand tour of the Middle East in 1862 through the eyes of photographer Francis Bedford. The four-month educational tour, organised by his parents Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, took in the sites of Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. Shown together for the first time since 1862, Bedford’s photographs, and the history of their public reception, provide a unique insight into Victorian Britain’s relationship and fascination with the region, and a rare opportunity to see the collection that “helped shape the Victorian understanding of the Middle East.”

The exhibition invites you to follow in the footsteps of the grand tour with photographs arranged chronologically by country, starting in Egypt and concluding in Greece. The collection reflects a diverse range of Victorian interests, from ancient sites to Islamic architecture, biblical landscapes to those of more recent historical interest. It also features more ethnographic style shots of ‘typical’ street scenes and of people they met along the way. Each image is coupled with a label that relates the significance of the location, often featuring relevant extracts from the Prince’s journal.

Statue of Queen Senet, 12th Dynasty.

Statue of Queen Senet, 12th Dynasty.

The display is interspersed with watercolours, archive material and artefacts that work together to contextualise the images. Collecting antiquities was actively encouraged by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who considered it an important part of their children’s education. The majority of archaeological artefacts on display were acquired by the Prince from Egypt, Rhodes and the Eastern Mediterranean during the tour, and remain part of the royal collection today. Highlights include the Papyrus of Naskhem, Priest of Amun Ra, a stunning collection of papyri found during an excavation attended by the Prince, a wooden funerary stela belonging to Nakhtmontu dating to the 3rd century BC, and a 12th dynasty statue of Queen Senet, which remains the oldest item in the royal collection. The collection gives a fascinating insight into the kind of objects that were considered desirable as souvenirs at the time and which went on to form the foundations of many Victorian established collections.

From an Egyptology perspective Cairo to Constantinople is full of fascinating little archaeological details. The number of sites and excavations visited by the Prince demonstrates just how much archaeology, as an emerging discipline, had captured the public imagination and how it was becoming increasingly significant as part of a broader education. I was particularly drawn to a watercolour by Jemima Blackburn from 1862 which captures the moment when the Prince was presented with an Egyptian mummy whilst attending his own excavation in Thebes. The small scale excavation was organised for the Prince by Sa’id Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt, with the understanding that the Prince could keep any artefacts found.

A view of Syria and Lebanon.

A view of Syria and Lebanon.

The photographs hold great value as archaeological records, not just for Egypt but across the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Bedford’s photographs show sites and monuments pre-excavation and, in the case of examples like Luxor Temple, in the process of being excavated. Many of the photographs capture a moment in time that is now lost forever, such as the photographs of Medinet Habu which show the columns of the Coptic church that once stood in the second court. Equally, the collection is a wonderful resource for placing Egypt in its wider archaeological and geographical context, allowing an interesting comparison between archaeological sites and interests across the region.

The Millar Learning Room is a thoughtful and valuable addition to the exhibition. Aimed at families in particular, the room provides a space to explore exhibition themes and content in greater detail. From interactive screens to explore the Prince’s original journal entries and audio points to listen to John McCarthy’s BBC Radio 4 commentary, to the ‘1862 Royal Tour’ board game and dressing up box, the Millar Learning Room has elements that will appeal to visitors of all ages.

This is one exhibition where the architecture of the gallery adds to the overall narrative. The opulent and grand setting of the Queen’s Gallery, coupled with the exhibition’s sophisticated styling and design elements, certainly enhances the visitor experience.

The Millar Learning Room.

The Millar Learning Room.

The Millar Learning Room.

The Millar Learning Room.

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