The Bulldog Trust only holds one exhibition a year at Two Temple Place but it is always spellbinding. The building itself is truly luxurious. Designed by John Loughborough Pearson for William Waldorf Astor, the neo-gothic mansion has been embellished with only the finest decoration from top to bottom. The latest adornments come in the form of the current Beyond Beauty exhibition, which presents the lives of the ancient Egyptians in a fantastically opulent setting.
Beyond Beauty showcases the ancient Egyptians as people who were obsessed with the way they looked. On show is jewelry, make up and clothing. While the objects have been brought to London for this exhibition, many of them have not been in the capital since their exodus from Egypt. The wares on display are made up of the Egyptian relics stored in seven regional museums from all over the UK from Batley, Bexhill, Bolton, Brighton, Macclesfield and Rochdale. While many exhibitions in London often fail to use the collections of museums outside of the city, Two Temple Place often looks all over England in their shows and it has been noted that there are 200 ancient Egyptian collections in Britain, many of which are outside of London.
The artifacts on show span over four millennia from 3,500 BC to 400 AD, having found their way to the UK through the work of a number of Victorian Egyptologists. Not only does the supplementary information provided in the exhibition provide us about the objects but also how they came to be a part of their respective British collections. Interestingly, some of the pieces on display are not ‘ancient’ at all, but forgeries created during the Victorian era to ‘enhance’ or make a collection seem more significant. Regardless of how the objects came to Britain originally their presence in the UK now is noteworthy as they would not be able to leave their native Egypt under the same circumstances today.
The exhibition goes beyond beauty in its presentation of the importance of appearances in the afterlife. The final upstairs galleries have been completely devoted to the preservation of the deceased body in the form of funerary head coverings and mummification. The mummies on display here are presented from every angle so that the viewer can appreciate the decoration of the funerary vessel from many perspectives. Also on show here is the influence that the beauty rituals of the ancient Egyptians had on members of neighboring empires. This can be seen in the form of the golden mummy mask of Titus Flavius Demetrios who was not an Egyptian but a Roman civilian. The gilded mask from around 100 AD shows Demetrios in Egyptian costume, smiling with kohl lined eyes and even the inclusion of false eyelashes.
Two Temple Place illustrates just how similar the preoccupations of the ancient Egyptians were similar to our own. Today we are obsessed with how we look and present ourselves, whether it be through Instagram filters, make up or plastic surgery. It should come as no surprise then that the objects inside the exhibition were owned by regular citizens and not by pharaohs. An interest in exterior appearance was not preserved merely for royalty it seems, but the masses. A visit to the exhibition is well worth a visit before the display returns to its respected repositories around the UK.
Beyond Beauty is on display at Two Temple Place until 24 April