The Egyptian Museum in Turin
You have been very nice in not complaining about my long haul, big carbon footprint weekends (I suspect because they were to visit the kids, and mothers get a bit extra on their emissions allowance if on maternal business). I fear that Sunday had no such excuse. I went to Turin with the husband for the sole purpose of visiting the Egyptian Museum -- which we had never visited and which is run by an old friend of ours from Cambridge, who showed us round.
This post is part of my very sporadic mini-series "Great Museums that you Might Not Know". Because it is tremendous.
I always get a slightly perverse kick out of Egyptian museums anyway. That is to say I know a very few of the barest bones of Egyptian history and culture. I can more or less tell my Middle Kingdom from my Old, I know a few of the great names and I good give a very rough and slightly inaccurate explanation of what "Egyptians" (which Egyptians you rightly ask) thought about what happened to the body after death. But more than that is all a bit of a mystery. All of which puts me in the same position as the many of visitors to classical collections -- who know something about the difference between the Republic and Empire, have heard of Nero and can describe a gladiatorial show. . . So it turns out to be rather museologicallay instructive.
But there was a lot more to the Museo Egizio in Torino.
It is the biggest and best collection of Egyptian Antiquities outside Egypt (and I hope its obvious success makes Egyptians proud to see it flourishing in North Italy, rather than wanting the stuff back) -- and some of it, as you can see in the picture at the top, has a stunning layout, with spot lights and mirrors (this gallery was designed by Dante Ferretti). But for me the highlights were on a more modest scale. If you go, there are three things particularly to look out for:
1. The Tomb of Kha (fourteenth century BC). This display consists of the complete contents of the tomb of an architect and his wife (undisturbed till it was excavated in the early twentieth century). It is the kind of stuff that makes a classicist green with envy, because it gives such a vivid idea of the material of daily life and dress in ancient Egypt. There is, for example, the wig of Merit (the wife), plenty of furniture, like a very natty folding stool -- and Kha's folding measuring rod. I have to say that I was particularly taken with the more than 30 pairs of Kha's linen monogrammed knickers that he had taken with him to 'the other side'.
2. The second thing is an erotic papyrus -- including wonderfully drawn erotic vignettes and large phalluses (of the late second millennium BC). One lady calmly applies her cosmetics, while apparently enjoying a bit of preparatory fondling below . . . and so on. I hadn't actually realised that things like this survived from Egypt. (The picture is just a detail and include the lady . . )
3. The final piece is, I fear, (sort-of) Roman -- at least, it apparently came from Rome. It is a bronze "table top" (altar top?), inlaid with other metals, including silver, showing all kinds of scenes involving the goddess Isis and other very recognisably Egyptian motifs (clearest in the drawing you see here). But as Eleni explained to us, many of the scenes do not really make Egyptian sense, and the hieroglyphs are largely nonsense (if -- like me -- you don't understand them any way, then it is hard to tell sense from nonsense). The likelihood is that it came from some grand, possibly imperial sponsored cult site of Isis in Rome (the temple on the Campus Martius -- maybe, I fancied, from its remake under Domitian). If so then, even with such an expensive object, the grip of the Roman adherents of Isis on the Egyptian orthodoxies of her cult was a bit weak.
All in all, a marvellous museum (in what is obviously a marvellous city) -- and just about to have a major extension and refurbishment (as you can see from the picture of Eleni and the husband here). But it will remain open during the building works, and the Tomb of Kha will always be on display.