Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East and Gold – The Queen’s Gallery

I really like going to see exhibitions at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace: they are always interesting and well-curated, and the one-year pass system – by which you buy a ticket on your first visit, get it stamped at the end, and gain free admission to the site for a year – means that you can see three different exhibitions for under £10. I visited on the last day of two smaller exhibitions that have been running since last autumn.

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East

The first exhibition was Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East, which examined the Middle Eastern journey of the Prince of Wales (the later King Edward VII) in 1862, encompassing Egypt, Palestine, the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. The exhibition mainly consisted of photographs taken by Francis Bedford (1815-94), which are evocative and beautiful. They had originally been exhibited immediately after the tour, when they fascinated Victorian audiences, particularly as many of the pictures were of sites it was very difficult to visit in person. I loved the pictures, although I was slightly concerned at the amount of heritage the Prince of Wales was seemingly allowed to keep for himself, like the statue of Queen Senet.

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Pyramids of Cheops and Cephrenes [The Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Khafre, Giza], 1862
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Queen Senet, XII Dynasty (c.1985-1785 BC)
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View from the Seraskier Tower [The Golden Horn, Istanbul (then Constantinople)], 1862


The second exhibition was Gold, which explored “the beauty and symbolism of gold, from the Early Bronze Age to the 20th century”. A fascinating range of items from the Royal Collection were displayed. I particularly liked the 18th-century tiger’s head from Mysore, India, and I also loved the painting The Misers which illustrated the evils of a love of gold and a miserly nature.

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Order of the Golden Fleece; Badge of Prince Albert. Might have belonged to George IV. c.1820
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Impressive tiger’s head
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The Misers, Follower of Marinus van Reymerswaele (c.1490/95-c.1567), 1548-51

Beyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia – British Museum

Last Friday after work I visited the new exhibition at the British MuseumBeyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia. Organised with the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, the exhibition was a fascinating insight into the cultures of South America before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

The legend of El Dorado has survived to this day, most commonly as the ‘city of gold’, but at the time, it was also described as a man covered in powdered gold. Gold held supreme importance in pre-16th century South American societies: it wasn’t used as currency, but it had strong symbolic significance. I was amazed by the craftsmanship in the beautiful pieces on display, showing how the work of the various peoples of the region differed by style.

Definitely take a look at this exhibition if you can – the artefacts are just beautiful, and they emphasise how complex and diverse society was in South America.