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How to See the British Museum in Four Visits online

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domestic vessels of the Egyptians; an intervening case (27) being
filled with the cedar coffin of a prophet priest of Amoun in Thebes,
elaborately ornamented with various religious symbols. Some of the
vases are inscribed with royal names of early dynasties, proving their
great antiquity: some of the most elegant dating so far back as
fourteen centuries before our era. These specimens of ancient Egyptian
workmanship suggest a state of high artistic refinement of a remoter
antiquity than the Grecian, wrecks of which lie in the Elgin and other
saloons on the basement of the museum. Of the large collection here
arranged the visitor will only care to notice the more remarkable
specimens. The uses to which these cups and bowls and vases were put,
may be inferred partly from their shapes, and partly from the material
of which they were made; those of a costly kind being probably the
receptacles of the unguents with which the ancient Egyptians of both
sexes anointed their persons after the bath; and the larger and less
costly varieties being the wine vases, &c, in common use. Two ancient
vases are in the first division of the case (22, 23) one with the name
of a king before the twelfth dynasty, and the more modern one of the
twenty-fifth dynasty. In the second division the visitor should notice
the small aragonite vases, resembling wine-glasses; in the third case
a slab, upon which are six vases of various shapes in calcareous
stone; in the fourth a vase from Lower Egypt, with the quantity it
holds inscribed upon it. In the next five cases, 24-27 are filled with
cups, and bowls, small vases, and lamps, including pottery vases
shaped like the pine cone; blue porcelain vase with a pattern; a
highly ornamented porcelain jug; vases in the shape of the hedgehog
and the ibis; glass, long-necked vases; a large blue bowl, ornamented
with leaves; a porcelain vase of the time of Sesostris, ornamented
with petals of the lotus flower; polished terra-cotta vases; double
vases; a lamp shaped like a bottle: a vase for libations in
terra-cotta, with a spout shaped like a bird's beak; bottle-shaped
vase in painted pottery, with three handles, and symbolic decorations;
and curious perforated cups on feet. The three cases marked 30-32
contain also some curious vases and lamps, including a vase shaped
like a woman playing a guitar, from Thebes; a vase issuing from a
flower, in red pottery; a, lamb reclining as a vase; gourd-shaped
vases; earthenware bowls covered with various deities; and lamps
ornamented with toads, boars' heads, children, and leaves, in relief.
Other vases are arranged here and there about the five next cases
(33-37) together with agricultural implements; and, strange to say,
viands prepared perhaps for some of the mummies that lie in the
immediate neighbourhood, together with odd bits and fragments, all
illustrative of times before Alexander had bequeathed the Ptolemies to
Egypt. In the first two divisions, the remarkable objects are various,
bronze buckets with ornamental outlines of various deities and sacred
animals; a rectangular bronze table, perforated to receive vessels;
bronze lamps, &c.; and in the third division the visitor should
certainly notice the two-staged stand of papyrus and cane from a
private tomb at Thebes, with trussed ducks and cakes of bread upon it;
baskets containing fruits, as figs, pomegranates, dates, cakes of
barley, &e. The fourth division contains some old agricultural
implements, including the fragments of a sickle found by Belzoni under
a statue at Karnak; a wooden pick-axe; an Egyptian hoe; a yoke of
acacia wood; eight steps of wood from a rope-ladder, and specimens of
palm-fibre rope.

Passing from these interesting relics of ancient manufacturing skill,
the visitor will next arrive before two cases (36, 37) of Egyptian
fragments of tombs, and weapons of war, illustrating the means of
killing and the fashion of burial. In the first division are various
goms, or Egyptian sceptres and staffs, some of ebony and some of wood;
and the blade of a war-axe, with the name of Thothmes III. inscribed
upon it. A variety of offensive weapons are arranged in the second
division, including bronze war-axes, one with a hollow silver handle;
daggers; bows and arrows, the arrows pointed with triangular bronze
heads, and fragments of flint-arrow-heads; fowling-sticks; handsome
bronze bladed knives, with agate and other handles, some worked with
gold, &c. The fragments in the third division include a knotted rope;
a piked club; wooden fan handles; wooden paddles carved with heads of
jackals; a mast for the model of a boat; and in the fourth division
are a curious cuirass and helmet, from the tombs of Manfaloot,
fashioned from a crocodile skin. At this point is another intermediate
case containing a mummy, coffin, and boards. The coffin is shaped like
a mummy, with a green face, and Netpe, between Isis and Nephthys on
the breast, with the deceased being introduced to the deities, among
whom he is to be divided by Thoth. This coffin was presented to the
Museum by George III.

Having peered into the fragmentary establishments of ancient Egypt,
followed the contemporaries of Sesostris into their dining-rooms, even
noticed specimens of their dishes, and seen them in their waxen
winding-sheets, the visitor may now pass to the next case (39) and
notice some of the remains of the materials by the means of which they
recorded their actions, and traced their lineaments. Here are
displayed the ancient Egyptian pens and pencils, colours and ink, all
shrivelled and discoloured with the mould of centuries, but remaining
still to bear witness to the early love of knowledge and of art, that
urged the Egyptian scribe and the Egyptian artist to fashion them. In
the first division are the rectangular pallets, with grooves for the
wooden pens or reeds, and hollows for the colour or ink; and here,
too, are the kash, or pens used by the ancient scribes. The pallets
have inscriptions upon them; on one there is an invocation to the
goddess of writing. Fragments of one or two colours, with the
palm-leaf baskets in which they were deposited are also in this case;
together with stands with small colour vases; slabs with colour jars;
mullets for grinding, a basket with paint-brushes made of palm-fibres;
and upon a thin piece of cedar wood is a portrait of an Egyptian
female of the Greek period. Amidst other minute objects lie Egyptian
folding wax tablets for writing; a cylindrical ink-box, with a chain
attached to hold the pen case; seals of various kinds with impressions
of bulls, jackals, and hieroglyphics; portion of a calendar on stone;
and fragments of Egyptian writing on stone, and chiefly from tombs.
These fragments illustrative of the Egyptian character are continued
in the first two divisions of the cases marked 40, 41, including a
panel and stud from an ebony box inscribed with the titles of
Amenophis III. and his daughter; and a fragment in ebony, with an
inscribed dedication to Anubis. Among the miscellaneous objects also
in these divisions are various boxes in wood, papyrus, one veneered
with white and red ivory, some inscribed with names; and one with a
pyramidal cover, veneered with ivory and ornamented with figures and
birds. The next or third division is filled with varieties of Egyptian
spoons. Some of these are curious. They are chiefly of wood; but some
are of ivory. Among them are wooden spoons, shovel, egg and
cartouche-shaped; one with the handle carved in the shape of lotus
flowers; one with a moveable cover from Memphis; one with the handle
representing a gazelle, and within fish demolishing a water plant,
from Thebes; one in the shape of a fish; one circular, with a lotus
handle and a hawk cynocephalus on its edge; one with the form of a
fish for a bowl, and a fox seizing the fish for a handle; and others
equally curious in point of design. The last, or fourth division of
the case is full of ancient Egyptian building materials, including
fragments of painted plaster; stamps for bricks; palm-fibre brushes
for colouring walls, and smoothing tools.


are disposed through the two cases (42, 43) which the visitor should
now examine. In the first division are some palm-leaf baskets; wooden
mallets, one found in the masonry of the great pyramid at Abooseir;
and staves; in the second division a large variety of curious tools is
exhibited, including Egyptian saws, bradawls, chisels, an adze, axe
blades, knives of bronze, generally inscribed with hieroglyphics,
hones, bronze nails; mysterious bronze tools, the use of which is
unknown, all interesting to those who are in any way interested in the
history of the wonderful people who inhabited the valley of the Nile,
and wielded these tools there, when our island was an untilled desert.
The third division of the case contains strange handles decorated with
the popular lotus flower, fragments of an ivory gorget, with figures
of various animals oddly grouped upon it; various fragments of
carving, and pedestals bearing inscriptions; and in the fourth, or
last, division of the case are various baskets, coloured and plain.
The first division of the next case (44, 45) is also given up to
palm-leaf baskets of various descriptions, which the visitor should
examine as illustrating the perfection to which the workers of the
palm-leaf brought their handicraft. Leaving the tools and baskets
behind, the visitor will now approach the


which occupy the second division of the case. It is well known that
music was generally cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, even before
Terpander had devised a system of musical notation: and that in their
religious ceremonies music was much used. The sistrum, of which the
visitor will notice one or two samples in the division, was the
instrument most generally used. It consisted of wires suspended
through the sides of an arch, to which a handle, generally highly
ornamented with the head of Athor, as in the one in the case, is
fixed: - the wires terminating with heads of sacred animals, upon which
rings were suspended that produced sounds by being shaken backwards
and forwards.

There are also some Egyptian harps; portions of flutes found in the
northern brick pyramids at Dashour; a pipe with seven burnt holes in
it; and a pair of bronze cymbals tied together by a band of linen. The
division next to that in which the musical instruments are arranged,
is filled with


Perhaps, no portion of this interesting Egyptian room so forcibly
impresses the spectator with the truth and reality of its revelations,
as these rude toys, that must have been handled by prattling Egyptian
children, when all was dark throughout Europe, save on the shore of
the southern sea, where glimmered fitful lights of awakening
civilisation, and Homer was enshrining the poor knowledge of his
period in the splendid fancies of his poet soul. Not vastly different
from the rude dolls of the present century must these of Egypt have
been when fresh from the workman's hand. They are in a very disabled
state now, however; one being a rude representation of an Egyptian
Miss Biffen, altogether guiltless of legs; and others, the flat
variety, having hair made of clay beads. In the case with these relics
are porcelain models of eggs, balls, fruit; wooden fish; leather and
palm-leaf balls, stuffed; dice, and various draughtsmen, with the
heads of cats; and one with the figure of a jackal. The last two
divisions of the case under notice are entirely filled with a variety
of specimens of


This division is always interesting to visitors who have any knowledge
of the essential excellences of textile fabrics. There can be no doubt
of the high repute in which the linens of ancient Egypt were held of
old; but the samples which have remained in a state of preservation up
to the present day, being mostly bandages of the coarse cloths from
mummies, it is hardly possible to estimate fairly the excellence of
the fabrics with which, the great men of ancient Egypt adorned their
persons and those of their wives. However, one or two samples of
linen, as fine as the celebrated muslins of India, remain, and the
visitor should notice particularly those clothes in the case with fine
blue selvage. In the case also are part of the bandages of an Egyptian
mummy of the Greek period, and a sample of ancient Egyptian linen
bleached by the modern process. With these specimens are skeins of
thread, spindles, and knitting-needles; bronze sewing needles; and a
hackle for flax-dressing. With this case the visitor closes his
examination of the wall cases of the Egyptian room. On taking a
general survey of the room, the objects that will first attract his
attention are the casts of the remarkable sculptures from the entrance
to the temple at Beit-onally near Kalabshe, placed over the wall-cases
against the eastern and western walls. These are faithful
representations of the painted sculpture for which the ancient
Egyptians were famous, about thirteen centuries before our era. The
specimens in the room represent the triumphs of the second Rameses.
The cast against the eastern wall is in two distinct compartments. In
the first, Rameses, accompanied by his sons, is driving his vanquished
Ethiopian enemies into a wood: in the second part the conqueror is
investing the vanquished Ethiopian prince with a gold chain, and
behind are the spoils of war, and Ethiopians leading strange oxen to
the victor; while, in the lower division, the vanquished prince is
presenting a load of tributary treasure to the king, followed by a
crowd of Ethiopians, leading all kinds of animals. These paintings, as
the visitor will observe, are painted without regard to light and
shade, the figures are huddled together, and the drawing is of the
most rigid description. The casts against the western wall are in five
compartments, and celebrate the victories of Rameses over the Asiatic
nations. In the first compartment Rameses is receiving his Asiatic
captives; in the second he is about to decapitate a prisoner; in the
third, in his kingly cap, he is defeating an Asiatic army, who are
represented in active flight; in the fourth he is attacking an Asiatic
fortress; and in the fifth the king is again receiving Asiatic
prisoners. Having noticed these remarkable antiquities, the visitor
should examine the plaster models, placed upon the central table of
the room, of the obelisks of Karnak and Heliopolis. Above the door is
a leather cross, from the dress of a Copt priest, supposed to be about
twelve hundred years old. Above various cases are placed mummy
coffins, and figures of deities too large for the cases; but the
mummy-case deposited over case 31 is worth special attention. It is
scooped out of the trunk of a tree, has the face painted black, a
vulture on the chest, and other ornaments and symbols. Near it, over
cases 30-32, are deposited four sepulchral vases of a military
officer, containing the parts removed from the body in the process of
embalming. Each vase was sacred to a deity; the first, containing the
stomach and appendages, was sacred to Amset the first genius of the
dead; the second, containing the lesser intestines, was presided over
by the second genius of the dead, Hapi; the lungs and heart, deposited
in the third vase, were sacred to Siumutf, the third genius; and to
the fourth genius the vase containing the liver and gall-bladder was

The visitor having noticed these objects has done with the Egyptian
room. It is well, however, to pause upon the threshold, and before
dismissing these interesting glimpses into the life, long since
scattered as dust, upon the soil of Egypt, to call to mind the
prominent points of the impressive story that may be read in the room
he is about to quit. He may wander back through the histories of ages
upon ages; pause before the revelations of Herodotus; and recall the
mighty romances of Homer; and, pausing even there, where all is so
dim, and little understood, turn once more to these fragmentary
monuments of a civilisation that existed even centuries before the
great Greek poet. So silently, for us of the present hour, time rolled
by in those days, that we fail to grasp the measure of the distance
which separates our fret and toil of the nineteenth century, from that
busy valley of the Nile; when the second Rameses reigned in all his
glory; when precise artists were ruling geometrical lines upon stones
to make their careful drawings; and painters, with their palm-fibre
brushes, all unconscious of the critics that lay yet silently in the
womb of time, who would shovel the dust and dirt of centuries from
before their works, and tell the story of Rameses from these rude
revelations. Curious thoughts crowd in every busy brain, before these
strange relics. Lost in the depths of the past, the mind, with a leap,
often grasps at the future; and men will be found seriously saying to
themselves, as they notice how we depend for our knowledge of ancient
Egyptian fabrics upon the shrouds of ancient Egyptians, - what, if we
looked forward, and in the remote centuries that are rolling toward
us, see all our vast and busy Lancashire some layers underground, and
archaeologists busy with our winding sheet! Well, at the least, these
thoughts are not idle. It does all of us good to think often of what
has been, and to dream of the future to which we are driving "down the
ringing grooves of time" - to think sometimes of the fine people who
had their glorious days, when London was distributed, untouched by
human hands, in clayey strata, and remote stone quarries; and
hereabouts, to the minds of the Greeks, lay the islands of the

The visitor should now proceed southward into the room called The
Bronze Room. Here are collected the ancient bronzes of which the
Museum trustees are in possession; including specimens of the fine
castings of ancient Greece, which, with all our modern contrivances,
we cannot surpass in the present day. The cases to the left are filled
with a supplementary collection of the remains of ancient Egyptian
art, for which space could not be found in the Egyptian room. These
occupy no less than twenty-six cases. The first eleven cases (1-11)
are filled with various sepulchral fragments in various substances,
and porcelain and terra-cotta figures, which the visitor who has just
emerged from the Egyptian room will again recognise. Here the strange
figures of the Egyptian deities occur again and again; but the visitor
should pause before the case 10, 11, in which are deposited models of
the Egyptian funeral boats, in stone and wood, from Thebes, and on the
fourth shelf a Roman caricature on papyrus, representing lions and
goats playing at dice, and foxes driving geese. In the Egyptian cases
are more specimens of cynocephali, jackal, and hawks' heads, models of
the four sepulchral vases, in pottery and wood; more mummy coffins,
fragments of inscribed pottery, large Egyptian terra-cotta vases, and
in cases 24, 25, are deposited some fragments in terra-cotta, and
bronze excavated by Mr. Layard, in ancient Assyria. Having glanced at
these Egyptian cases the visitor should turn at once to the collection


which fill the cases numbered from 29 to 112. The visitor particularly
interested in Greek and Roman art, might here spend an entire day.
Bronze, a mixture of copper and tin, was used by the ancients for the
manufacture of all kinds of edge-tools, long before iron was smelted
from the earth in which it is invariably found; and mineralogists of
the present day are surprised to see the works which the ancients
executed with a material, that no modern workmen could use as a
cutting medium. Stone masons' chisels, and fine edged weapons of war,
were made of bronze in those days. The collection of bronzes which the
visitor is now about to examine, cannot be said to be a perfect
collection; yet it contains some beautiful specimens, and one that is
said to be the finest bronze in Europe. The antiquarian pauses with
delight before these marvellous specimens of ancient skill; and
reflecting upon the difficulties which beset the caster in bronze, it
is astonishing to see the precision and the exquisite finish with
which the artists of ancient Greece and Rome performed their labours.
Some of their bronze manufacture were hammered, but most of those
works from which we derive a knowledge of their greatness as artists
were cast. Of those colossal bronzes which were studded about Rome,
Athens, and Delphos, few remain at the present day. The material of
which they were composed was too valuable to escape the clutch of
barbaric conquerors; therefore the bronzes which remain are chiefly of
a small size, but still sufficiently perfect to assure us of the great
works that filled every open place in the towns of ancient Greece and
Rome. In these cases the visitor will find a great number of bronze
utensils and personal ornaments: metal mirrors; lamps; incense
vessels, or thuribula; the saucers for pouring libations, called
paterae; tripods of all kinds and variously ornamented; candelabra;
and the clasps of the Romans called fibulae.

Beginning with the first case, 29, 30, the visitor will first remark
three ancient vases or amphorae, and five jugs, from Corfu, aged about
five centuries before our era; and in the same cases, on the third and
fourth shelves, Athenian vases, variously ornamented with geometrical
designs, animals, and birds, in the most ancient style. The next case
also contains vases of the most ancient style, from Athens, including
a fine specimen surmounted by two horses. In cases 33, 34, are further
specimens of the vases of ancient Greece, on some of which red figures
are traced upon a black ground, and on others a red ground is adopted,
with the ornamental figures in black: among the ornaments on those
vases the visitor should notice the cupids represented in blue and
white on one of these vases, and on another the figure of a crawling
boy, with a low stool and an apple before him. The vases in the next
cases (35, 36) contain some fine specimens of Athenian art about the
time of Pericles, with figures traced red and black, representing
Orestes and Electra at the tomb of Agamemnon. In these cases also are
some Athenian glass vases, and opaque glass vessels from Melos;
terra-cotta bas-reliefs, representing Bellerophon destroying the
Chimera; Perseus destroying the gorgon Medusa, and other classical
subjects; and upon the third shelf, amid unguent boxes, terra-cotta
lamps, and a terra-cotta doll, is a curious vase containing bones,
with a silver Athenian coin, attached to the jar by careful relatives,
to pay for the deceased's transit across the Styx. A collection of
terra-cotta figures are arranged upon the four shelves of case 37.
These include an ancient comic actor as Hercules; Athenian ladies
bearing water jugs, called Hydriophorae; Ceres; a dancing group from
Athens; animals; stools; and dancing figures from the south of Italy.
No less than three hundred and thirty-three handles from the wine
vessels or amphorae of ancient Rhodes are deposited in cases 38, 39.
Some are inscribed with the names of the chief magistrate. Varieties
of vessels in terra-cotta fill the two first shelves of the cases 40,
41, from Etruria; upon the third shelf are fragments of large bronzes,
including the staff of AEsculapius with the serpent; and the bronze
groups distributed upon the fourth shelf include three figures of
Hercules; and two figures supposed to be a Ptolemy and his queen
arrayed as Fortune. The cases 42-45 are filled with bronze weapons,
including spear-heads from the sepulchres of Etruria; arrow-heads and
bronze swords of the Roman time; standards with the famous Roman
eagles; helmets, including a famous one dedicated to Jupiter Olympius,
by Hiero I. on the occasion of gaining a victory over the Tuscans at
Cumae, upwards of four centuries before our era; and one found at
Olympia, dedicated by the Argives; bronze plates, and military belts,
from Vulci. The next six cases (46-51) are filled with various Grecian
and Roman antiquities, of which the visitor should particularly notice
amid bronze amphorae, tripods, glass beads, weights in the shape of
busts, sacrificial knives, and bronze hatchet heads, three cistae or
boxes, with classical groups in relief upon them, the subject of one
being Hercules grasping serpents. These cistae were the toilette boxes
of the ancients. Here too the visitor should remark the hearth (a
tripod) with charcoal still upon it, with fire-irons and cooking

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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 8 of 17)