Bonomi letters acquired by the British Museum

Many thanks to Early Explorers in Egypt and Nubia for alerting me to the exciting news that the British Museum have acquired a collection of letters from Joseph Bonomi to his friend Samuel Sharpe.

Bonomi (1796-1878) was a draughtsman, artist, sculptor and curator of Sir John Soane's Museum in London.  Sharpe (1799- 1881) was an Egyptologist and Biblical scholar.  They collaborated on many publications, including one about the sarcophagus of Seti I in Soane's museum, and developed a close friendship when working together on the Crystal Palace Exhibition.  Bonomi worked with some of the greatest scholars of that time, including Robert Hay, James Burton, Sir John Gardner Wilkinson and Richard Lepsius.  Some 500 of his watercolours, sketches and tracings are now held at the Griffith Institute in Oxford.


These letters, held in the archive of the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, are important primary evidence of the Egyptological situation of that time - the politics of excavation, the state of the monuments, the wilful destruction of sites and the relationships between collectors and Egyptologists of the day.

This source of evidence is crucial to a better understanding of the history of Egyptology, an area that has been somewhat neglected by the discipline,  but which is finally being recognised as an important source of information for not only Egyptology, but for material culture as a whole.  I am in no doubt that many letters, documents and photographs from the nineteenth century are housed in museums, institutions and hidden away in the lofts of surviving descendants waiting to be rediscovered.   What a wonderful thought...!


Patricia Usick also comments on this exciting find in her post on the British Museum blog - "A correspondence with the history of Egyptology".

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