Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford prepares to unveil six spectacular new galleries

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 November 2011
A photo of a sculpture of an Egyptian cat wearing a gold ear piece in black
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
New Galleries: Ancient Egypt and Nubia, Ashmolean Museum of art and Archaeology, Oxford, opens November 26 2011

A year ago this month, Oxford City Council granted planning permission for the project to overhaul the University of Oxford’s imperious Ashmolean.

A £5 million project working to a design formed by Rick Mather – last seen crafting the wide expanses of the Towner in Eastbourne – this temple of all things ancient Egypt has moved 40,000 objects, commissioned more than 9,000 hours of conservation expertise and moved dozens of massive sculptures and showcases around the new 685 square metre space. Not bad for 12 months' work.

"What has made the project especially challenging has been the requirement to develop six new galleries simultaneously in the space of just a year, and to complete everything in time for installation," says Mark Norman, the museum's Head of Conservation.

The moving-in process was carried out in a couple of months. "With the volume of objects, and the breadth of materials from which they are made, the conservation work has been a remarkable team effort and, for many of us, a pinnacle career experience."

A photo of a carving of a cat in a piece of Egyptian stone
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Egypt at its Origins (Gallery 22, The Lisa and Bernard Selz Gallery)
The opening gallery covers the Paleolithic period of 1000000 to 10000 BC to the Early Dynastic period, around 3000 BC, when Egypt was unified under a single king.

Striking limestone statues of fertility god Min, excavated by Egyptologist forefather WM Flinders at Koptos at the end of the 19th century, are among the oldest preserved stone sculptures in the world.

A photo of a huge square Egyptian stone with biblical figures carved into it
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Dynastic Egypt and Nubia (Gallery 23, The Christian Levett Family Gallery)
Running from about 2686 BC to 1540 BC, an entire Pan-Grave burial assemblage provides a striking glimpse of overlooked surrounding cultures in this gallery.

The centrepiece is the Shrine of Taharqa, which formed part of a temple in ancient Sudan in honour of the god Amun. The footprint of four columns is part of the space enveloping a shrine which is the only pharaonic building in Britain.

A photo of a colourful Egyptian mummy tomb
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Life After Death in Ancient Egypt (Gallery 24, The Sackler Gallery)
A mummy with nested coffins, funerary models, canopic jars for carrying organs and amulets are among the "practical tools" to keep the Egyptian dead happy on their journey to the afterlife on display here.

Colourful and faithfully recaptured paintings by Nina de Garis Davies, who recorded Theban tombs between 1907 and the outbreak of the Second World War, feature throughout the gallery.

A photo of a carving of an Egyptian biblical figure in stone
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
The Amarna Revolution (Gallery 25)
King Amenhotep IV might not have found much joy in an Oxfordshire November – he worshipped the sun as a creative force after becoming ruler in the 18th dynasty, breaking with religious and political tradition as well as building a new capital city (Akhetaten, now known as Tell el-Amarna) where he lived with his Queen and six daughters.

The Princesses fresco brings home the informal theme of palace life by depecting the couple and their children. Its style is a contrast to conventional Egyptian art.

A photo of a colourful stone carving of two Egyptian princesses
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Egypt in the age of Empires (Gallery 26)
If you're nosey about the revealing minutiae of everyday life in an ancient Egyptian village, this is the gallery for gleaning snippets from thousands of documents excavated from the sites of the village of Deir-el-Medina, where many workers in the royal tombs worked.

Written on limestone ostraca – cheap and readily available chips of stone – they accompany a display on the role of sacred animals in the cult of deities, which fascinated the Greeks and Romans who conquered Egypt during the New Kingdom, before 1000 BC.

A photo of a colourful painting of two ancient Egyptian figures
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Egypt Meets Greece and Rome (Gallery 27)
The final room tells the story of Egypt after the death of Alexandra the Great, in 305 BC, and his successor, General Ptolemy, who declared himself King of a dynasty which lasted until the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 BC and subsequent establishment of Egypt as a Roman province.

The period witnessed a revolution in funerary practices driven by the Greek and Roman lack of belief in an afterlife. They preferred lasting recognition of achievements during life, doing so through portrait statues, paintings and covering the faces of mummified corpses with painted wooden panels.

  • Ancient Egypt and Nubia opens November 26 2011. See Culture24 throughout this week for more.
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
Related listings (126)
See all related listings »