3,000 year-old statue acquired for Leicester’s Ancient Egypt collection
Published on Tuesday, July 21, 2020
A BLACK granite statue, made in Egypt more that 3,000 years ago and gifted to the son of travel pioneer Thomas Cook in the late-19th century, has been purchased for the city of Leicester.
Depicting the seated figures of Sethmose and his wife Isisnofret, the statue will take pride of place in New Walk Museum’s Ancient Egypt gallery when the city’s museums reopen later this year.
The 2ft-high statue shows both figures wearing fashionable contemporary dress of the period, with the female figure wearing a close-fitting ankle-length garment and a tripartite wig – which divides the hair into three sections, with two sections draped over the shoulders at the front and the third arranged over the back.
The male figure, Sethmose – whose titles included High Priest of Anhur and Sobek and Chief of the Harem of Sobek – also wears a wig and is dressed in a pleated kilt.
Inscriptions on the statue include references to the Pharaoh Seti I – the second ruler of the 19th dynasty – and the god Horus, typically represented as a falcon-headed crocodile.
As hard stone like granite was difficult to procure in Ancient Egypt, the statue was probably made with royal permission and designed to be on display in a public place or temple.
Deputy city mayor Cllr Piara Singh Clair said: “The inscriptions on the back and sides of this statue suggest that it was made to be viewed from all angles, which supports the theory that it would originally have been on display in a public space.
“Now, some 3,000 years after it was made, I’m delighted that the statue will be back on public display and inspiring visitors to Leicester’s flagship museum.”
The black granite statue – dating from the early 19th dynasty in around 1200 BC – was put up for sale by administrators following the collapse of the Thomas Cook travel business last year.
Thanks to generous contributions from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and Art Fund, and with support from the Friends of Leicester & Leicestershire Museums, the Leicester Archaeological & Historical Society, the Leicester Literary & Philosophical Society and the City of Leicester Museums Trust, the city was able to raise the £150,000 required to secure the statue for Leicester’s museums.
The statue will be an important new addition to Leicester’s award-winning Ancient Egypt galleries, joining four mummies – Pa-nesit-tawy, Pe-iuy, Bes-en-Mut and Ta-Bes – that were donated to Leicester by Thomas Cook’s son, John, in 1885.
John Mason Cook (1835-1899) was presented with the statue by the Egyptian authorities in the 1890s to thank him for the contribution made by the company – founded in Leicester in 1841 – to the development of tourism on and around the Nile. The statue became part of the Thomas Cook archive but was put up for sale by administrators when the tour operator collapsed. The rest of the archive – comprising thousands of items, from the earliest days of package travel to the modern day – was transferred to its new home at the Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland Record Office in January 2020 after a successful bidding process.
Leicester City Museums – which is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation – is now planning a major new exhibition featuring dozens of objects from the Thomas Cook archive, and although it’s not clear when Leicester’s museums will be able to re-open, the Thomas Cook-inspired exhibition will be one of the first to go on display.
Joanna Jones, head of arts, museums, festivals and events at Leicester City Council, said: “We are very grateful to everyone involved in bringing this beautiful statue to Leicester.
“It is not only an important addition to Leicester’s fabulous Egyptian collection, but it’s also another link to the Thomas Cook story – and a reminder that, thanks to Thomas Cook, Leicester can rightly call itself the birthplace of tourism.”
Photo caption: A member of staff at New Walk Museum with the statue of Sethmose and Isisnofret
Notes for editors:
The inscription on the back of the statue includes the following lines of translated text:
adoring Sobek and Horus by Sethmose,
he says I have come before you that I might praise your beauty,
you are unique amongst the gods,
you are lord of Maat and the west is before you
1. About the statue
Provenance: Presented, in the 1890s, to John Mason Cook (1835-99), son of Thomas Cook, the original founder of Thomas Cook & Son, by the Egyptian administration in recognition of his contribution to the development of tourism on and around the Nile.
Published: K.A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, Historical and Biographical, vol.VII, Oxford 1989, pp.413-4 (90)
J. Malek, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings, vol. VIII. Objects of Provenance not Known, part 2, Oxford 1999, p.510, no.801-614-600
Exhibited: Quadriga Gallery, Wellington Arch, London, “Egypt in England”, 7 November 2012 - January 2013.
The Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund that helps regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales to acquire objects relating to the arts, literature and history. It was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881 and continues to be part of its nationwide work. The annual grants budget, currently £730,000, is provided by Arts Council England (ACE) each year, the Purchase Grant Fund considers some 200 applications and awards grants to around 100 organisations, enabling acquisitions of over £3 million to go ahead. www.vam.ac.uk/purchasegrantfund
The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up in 1980 to save the most outstanding parts of our national heritage, in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK, using Government funding. This year (2020) marks the 40th anniversary of the organisation. In those four decades more than 1,300 treasured objects and places have been saved for the nation. www.nhmf.org.uk @NationalHeritageMemorialFund
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 159,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year, which was won by St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff, in 2019, and through a range of digital platforms. www.artfund.org
2. About Thomas Cook
Thomas Cook founded his travel company in Leicester and ran his first excursion from there to Loughborough in 1841. The company grew rapidly and by 1855 was running continental tours, opening a London office in 1865. Thomas Cook is credited with inventing the package tour and bringing affordable travel to ordinary people. In 1878, Cook himself retired to Leicester, where he died in 1892. The company he founded became a household name with global reach. It sadly ceased trading in September 2019.