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The University of Southampton
ArchaeologyPart of Humanities

Research project: British art, archaeology and the discovery of ancient Egypt

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This project is investigating how British history and genre painting contributed to the formation of ideas about ancient Egypt. It will analyse the Egyptian-themed works of three leading history painters (Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Edward Poynter and Edwin Long), aiming to establish how their paintings labelled, categorised and defined ancient Egypt as a culture.

In the nineteenth century, archaeology had a profound impact on the understanding of the past. New discoveries and scholarly publications provided major insights on antiquity, revealing the potential of archaeology to illuminate previously unknown aspects of ancient history and culture. Greatly inspired by this development, artists began to feature archaeological subjects and objects in their work. Beyond generating images of the past that stimulated the popular imagination, these artists encouraged a passion for the ancient world with audiences throughout Europe. This project hypothesizes that historicist artworks from the second half of the nineteenth century generated important and influential ideas about the past in both the popular realm and the scholarly domain. The dramatic and colourful reconstructions of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, in which great monuments, exotic landscapes, biblical themes and domestic subjects were featured became a key way of engaging with the past, yet we know very little about their role in shaping disciplinary knowledge. To address this research question, the proposed study will investigate how British history and genre painting contributed to the formation of ideas about ancient Egypt.

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