This exhibition celebrates one of Sir John Soane’s Museum’s most treasured possessions, the sarcophagus of Pharoah Seti I, 200 years after its discovery.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni, or The Great Belzoni as he became known, was a circus strongman turned Egyptologist who contributed hugely to 19th-century archaeology. While working in Egypt on the removal of antiquities such as the seven-tonne bust of Pharoah Ramesses II, he discovered the tomb of Ramesses’ father, Pharoah Seti I.
Seti I’s 13-year reign (BC 1291-1278) ushered in an era of military might – and also one of cultural and artistic excellence. The craftsmanship of his sarcophagus, elaborately carved in white alabaster, took even Belzoni aback, ‘being such as we had no idea could exist’. It was purchased by John Soane in 1824 and became the centrepiece of his collection around which ‘sarcophagus parties’ were held for London’s elite.
This exhibition traces the history of the sarcophagus and the stories around it, from Belzoni’s personal accounts of its discovery to recent conservation work and research, including a fascinating 3D high-resolution scan.
Also on display are several watercolours Belzoni and his assistant made to record the vividly coloured wall paintings found in all 10 rooms of the tomb.