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SM M516. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Justin Piperger
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Lid of an ancient Egyptian coffin (mummy case)

c.1200 BC
XIXth - XXth Dynasty

Wood, possibly sycamore

Height: 15cm
Length: 170cm
Width: 55cm

Museum number: M516

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 34help-vermeule-catalogue-number

On display: Sepulchral Chamber
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit

Curatorial note

The figure has a bearded face and a wig with lappets.

When first in Soane's collection this mummy case lid was displayed standing upright (it is shown in a design drawing for the Dome area of 1808). At the end of Soane's life (c.1834) it was moved and laid on its back beneath the north arch of the Sepulchral Chamber in the Crypt, on a purpose-made stand. It was returned to this position, on a stand of the Soane period which is probably the one made for it, in 2006.

There has been speculation that the Soane mummy case might be that brought back to England in 1737 by the traveller Richard Pococke (1704-65) and examined by the Egyptological Society at the home of the 2nd Duke of Richmond in 1742 (Minutes of the Society, 19 February 1742 record this forthcoming meeting). The Minutes describe the lid of the coffin as consisting of 'two boards upon which at the upper end was affixed a human face, carved in relief with the 2 lappets of the headdress appearing such as is usually represented on Egyptian statues'. It was thought in the 1960s (see correspondence with the British Museum in Soane Museum object file) that an Egyptian mummified head in the Soane collection (X197) might relate to it and might be part of the mummy (the head is not mentioned in any of the Museum's early inventories and this seems unlikely). However, the measurements recorded in the Society's Minutes do not tally with those of the Soane mummy case. There is another mummy case in Brighton Museum purchased by the Duke of Richmond in 1735 which is now thought to be the one examined by the Egyptological Society in 1742.

A watercolour by Thomas Rowlandson, entitled 'The Antiquary', sold by Sotheby's on 24 July 1980 (Anonymous sale, Lot 155) and again on 10 November 1994 (Eighteenth and Nineteenth century British Drawings and Watercolours, Lot 23) was said in both catalogues to show the mummy case which was in the collection of the Duke of Richmond at the time the drawing was made and is 'now in the Soane Museum'. This seems unlikely and the source of this information is unknown.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Find location in Egypt unknown; in Soane's collection by 1808-9 when it is depicted in a design view dated June 25th 1808 (SM Vol. 83/37) for Soane's new museum, being built at the back of No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields; recorded by Soane as Formerly in the Gallery of the Duke of Richmond at Whitehall, and was presented to me by Mr. John White (Sir John Soane, Description, 1835). The Duke of Richmond's Gallery was created in 1758 and the collection opened for the use of students of painting, sculpture and engravings, with instruction provided and silver medals offered for designs and bas-reliefs. The Gallery was destroyed by fire in 1791 but the contents saved. John White was probably the architect John White (c.1747-1813) who was surveyor to the Duke of Portland and worked at Chiswick House for the 5th Duke of Devonshire. If so this is the same John White who presented Soane with a full-size cast of the Apollo Belvedere in 1811.


Sir J. Soane, Description, 1835, p.34
Peter Thornton and Helen Dorey, A Miscellany of objects from Sir John Soane's Museum, 1992, p.65
A Complete Description, 13th revised edition, 2018, p.57

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