Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category

Retour d’Egypte

August 16, 2012

Fragment of a wall painting depicting a harpist entertaining guests at a banquet, from an 18th-Dynasty tomb at Thebes dated 1425-1375 BC, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

William Bankes, who inherited the Kingston Lacy estates in 1806, combined the different temperaments of a scholar, a connoisseur and a romantic. Between 1812 and 1820 he travelled around the Mediterranean, visiting Portugal, Spain, Egypt, Syria and Italy and collecting works of art along the way.

The Philae obelisk on the South lawn at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Two articles have just been published about Bankes’s Egyptian collections. In the 2012 edition of the National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual, David Adshead relates the story of how Bankes managed to remove an obelisk from the island of Philae in the First Cataract of the Nile and to have it ultimately re-erected on the lawn at Kingston Lacy.

One of a pair of ‘Retour d’Egypte’ (or Egyptian Revival) Paris porcelain stands with caryatid figures and hieroglyphs, c. 1805, in the Saloon at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

The early nineteenth century was a period of fierce rivalry in Egypt between the representatives of several European nations – and in particular between Britain and France – keen on obtaining the most interesting antiquities and on deciphering the hieroglyphic script.

One of a group of 25 stelae, or tomb inscriptions, from the craftsmen’s village at Deir el-Medina near Thebes, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Bankes played a part in this ‘antiquities race’ by recording inscriptions and collecting objects. The obelisk, which was the largest and most fraught of his acquisitions, had been claimed by the French Consul, but after a failed attempt during which it slid into the Nile, Bankes and his associate Giovanni Battista Belzoni managed to get their prize onto a boat and whisk it away to Alexandria.

Copy of a wall painting at the Great Temple at Abu Simbel depicting captives, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

In retrospect this frantic game of one-upmanhip seems slightly comical – a clear case of obelisk envy – but at the time it was deadly serious. At one point Belzoni was almost lynched by the Consul’s men.

Shabti figurine of King Sethos I, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In the August 2012 edition of ABC Bulletin Dr Daniele Salvoldi writes about the archive of William Bankes’s Egyptian studies. During his travels Bankes commissioned a number of artists to record almost a hundred different sites, some of which have since been lost.

Copy by Louis Linant de Bellefonds of a wall painting in the Great Temple at Abu Simbel depicting King Rameses II before three gods, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The resulting collection of 1700 documents includes epigraphy, landscapes, plans and elevations, maps and images of anthropological and natural subjects. The archive, which has now been fully catalogued by Dr Salvoldi, is kept at the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester, and can be accessed online.