Monday, 7 October 2013

Review of The World Museum Egyptian Collection in Liverpool

Guest reviewer Julia Thorne talks about her experience of visiting The World Museum in Liverpool...


The Sekhmet statues flanking the staircase
in the foyer
The World Museum, in central Liverpool, houses one of the more substantial Egyptology collections in the country outside of London. Opened in 1853, and moved to its current location in 1860, the museum has a rich history.

In 1941, the museum was caught up in a bomb raid and was badly damaged, including the Egyptology gallery. Luckily, many of the more valuable objects had been moved away when the threat of war was looming. It took over a decade to repair the damage.

In 2005, the entire museum underwent extensive work, creating the experience you find there today. I visited the museum when I first moved to Liverpool, shortly before the renovations began, and I remember having to find my way around winding corridors to get to the Egyptology gallery. Today, every gallery is directly accessible from the main staircase and lifts.

The foyer itself is impressive, open all the way up to the glass roof, five floors above you. There’s a pterodactyl hanging above your head, and two Sekhmet statues flanking the staircase. These statues are from the cache at the Precinct of Mut at Karnak, commissioned by Amenhotep III. If you have a look around the side of the right-hand-side statue, you’ll see the name ‘Belzoni’ carved into the stone.

Gallery layout




The entrance of the Egyptology Gallery 
The Egyptology gallery is part of the Ancient Worlds section, and you’re welcomed to the gallery by a large doorway, shaped like an Egyptian pylon gateway. As you go through this rather impressive entrance, you’re given the choice to go left for life in ancient Egypt, or right to the realm of Osiris (the two sections are also connected by a large, open doorway within the gallery itself).

The daily life room has wall murals of different aspects of life, and the items are displayed by theme, such as writing and language, cosmetics and jewellery, and agriculture. Although it’s a single room, it’s a good size and has plenty to see.

The afterlife room seems to have been designed to feel like a tomb. If you go into it from the front entrance of the gallery, you come through a darkened, narrow passageway, decorated with funerary texts on the walls and the classic Egyptian tomb ceiling of yellow stars on a dark blue background. The main room has scenes from the Book of the Dead funerary text on the walls, blown up to several feet tall, and the room has a couple of side annexes, much like a tomb chamber with its anterooms.


The 'Living in Egypt' room
Entrance to the 'Realm of Osiris'




















One of the annexes in the ‘Realm of Osiris’ room 

Contents
The gallery has a wide range of objects on display. When you first go in, there’s a case with some wonderful Predynastic pottery and bone items upon which to feast your eyes. The rest of the gallery then has items from many different aspects of life, and all periods of Dynastic history. There’s also a case of Greco-Roman items, and the writing and language case has some Coptic manuscripts.

The displays are accompanied by lots of additional information, including videos of characters from ancient Egypt talking to you, information panels, such as the one telling you about the Predynastic period, and a whole host of flipboards with fun and fascinating facts about Egypt, dotted around the walls.

There are also some interactive extras for children, including a touch-screen computer where you can make your own Egyptian name and play some quizzes.

Apart from one of the videos, the afterlife room is more muted (respectful, maybe). There are several coffins on display, as well as a three or four mummies. This includes one of the prides of the collection: the coffin and mummy of Padiamun, a 22nd Dynasty priest. He was completely unwrapped in the 19th century; however, the museum has since rewrapped him, leaving just his head uncovered.

Coptic papyrus in the ‘Writing and lan- guage’ case 

A selection of the Predynastic pottery on display 





One of the many information flilpboards in the gallery 

The cartonnage coffin of Padiamun. 
The base of it is in the background here

The mummy of Padiamun 

Accessibility
Both the gallery and the museum itself have excellent accessibility.

The videos in the gallery are all subtitled and items are clearly labelled. The Chattering Wall is a great addition, as the whole scene is created in a sunk relief, meaning visitors with visual impairments can feel the picture and listen to the sounds coming from it.

There are toilets on all floors, every one catering for disabled users. The one I used on a previous visit could fit me, my two children and a pushchair, and there was still room for manoeuvre.

As far wheelchair users are concerned, there are ramps and lifts to all parts of the museum, and the gallery itself had plenty of space between display cases (I have manoeuvred a pushchair around the gallery in the recent past, and didn’t have any problems). Most of the items are in reasonably low display cases; wheelchair users might struggle with a few items, such as the coffin of Padiamun, which is stood up on its end, but it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

(My only caveat here, is that all the gallery entrances have large double doors, which I have seen people struggle with. Unless I haven’t noticed buttons, these doors could do with being made automatic, to make it easier for wheelchairs and pushchairs to get in and out.)


The Chattering Wall, full of the sounds of daily life in ancient Egypt 


Favourite items
This is where things get difficult!

I asked myself what my favourite item is, and although there is one that particularly stands out to me, there are a few that come such a close second, I feel it’d be rude to leave them out. So instead, here’s my top five (first four in no particular order):

Scribe model
This is a Middle Kingdom (11th–12th Dynasty) model of a scribe – working on the accounts of a granary – found at Beni Hassan. I just love this little guy’s face, with his big eyes; so full of expression!

Middle Kingdom model of a scribe 

22nd Dynasty stela
This stela shows a woman call Tamiu (’The Cat’) in front of Re-Horakhty, and hails from the 22nd Dynasty. What I particularly like about this piece is the hieroglyphs painted around the sides and top of the stela.

22nd Dynasty stela with hieroglyphs painted around the edge 

Inscribed shells
Oyster shells inscribed with the name ‘Nebmaatre’ (Amenhotep III). Considering how fragile oyster shells can be, I find not only the original carving amazing, but the fact also that they’ve remained intact over the millennia.

Oyster shell inscribed with the name of Nebmaatre 

Funerary papyri
I have to admit that I have a bit of a thing for funerary papyri, and these ones fit the bill rather well. These two papyri are from the New Kingdom, around the 19th–21st Dynasty, and are drawn in black ink only, with just the beginning of the spells written in red ink. In my opinion, these texts are quite beautifully produced, and I think the black and red makes them look quite stylish.

Fragment of a New Kingdom funerary text 
Second fragment of a New Kingdom funerary text 

Predynastic bowl fragment
This is my absolute favourite piece in the gallery. It may not look like much at first glance, but it’s a fragment of a stone vessel, inscribed with hieroglyphs. It’s from the 1st or 2nd Dynasty, so they’re very early hieroglyphs, which is why I love it so much. I almost fell over with excitement when I first saw it!

Early Dynastic stone vessel fragment with inscribed hieroglyphs (the inset is a high-contrast image of the hieroglyphs) 

Conclusion
I love visiting the World Museum; although it caters very well for the children (and the swarms of small people present during the school holidays, as well as my own children’s enthusiasm for visits is testament to this!), there’s also plenty for the grown ups too.

The Egyptology gallery itself is wonderful; there’s lots of beautiful things to see, and the layout, murals and lighting create a real atmosphere.

The downside to this, however, is that it can be difficult to take pictures; I took a tripod along so I could take longer exposures. But you must get permission from the curator before using a tripod or flash in the gallery. The curator did, very kindly, offer to provide me with pictures of items, taken outside of their glass cases. I chose to use my own here, though, as I wanted to try to capture the feeling of the gallery and show you how things look in situ.

As someone more knowledgeable about Egyptology than your average visitor, I would have liked a little more information on some of the objects. I think they’ve done very well with the information available for most visitors, but I did need a bit more at times. In these days of advancing technology, a smartphone/tablet app or ebook downloadable from the museum website would be great. (The objects are gradually being entered on the Global Egyptian Museum website, if you’re looking for more research material, but this, I believe, is an ongoing project. It would also be quite laborious to use if you just wanted to get some more information about pieces as you’re browsing the gallery.)

If you’re in the area, I urge you to visit the museum. If you like it quiet, get there early in the morning and/or out of school hours (though there is always the possibility of school groups coming in). I went on a term-time Friday, got there when the museum opened at 10.00am, and there were very few people in there until the first school group nearly two hours after I arrived.

The curator, Dr Ashley Cooke, runs a very active page on Facebook. It’s a great place to go to find out more about objects both in the gallery and the collection in general. You can find it at https://www.facebook.com/LiverpoolAncientEgypt

To find out more about the history of the museum, go to http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/history/

Bio
Julia Thorne is a freelance typesetter and a complete and unabashed Egyptophile. She studied Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, with a particular interest in the Egyptian language, and considers it one of the best things she’s ever done. You can find her at www.tetisheri.co.uk, on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Tetisheri13), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Tetisheri13) and Google+ (https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/117797024702066646008/117797024702066646008/posts)


All photos (copyright) Julia Thorne 2013.


Reflection of the author in some black-topped redware 


Thanks to Julia for a wonderful review!

Would you like to review a museum?  Contact me at rogersbevj@yahoo.co.uk












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