And furthermore ...

One Man's Treasure encourages the use of anonymous photographs posted here to illustrate books and album covers.
If an image appeals to you, contact John Toohey at

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Postcards of Egyptian monuments
“He died in great agony, raving of mummies, pyramids, serpents, and some fatal curse which had fallen upon him.”
Louisa May Alcott, Lost in a Pyramid (1869)

 Little Women would make Louisa May Alcott famous and relatively wealthy but while she was writing it she needed money so she pumped out some lurid tales including Lost in a Pyramid, which some critics credit as the first story about an Egyptian mummy’s curse reaping what it had sown. By 1922, when Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb the idea was already a boilerplate so when people associated with the discovery started dying off others took it for granted that ancient curses existed. The finger of suspicion regarding Tutankhamen’s curse is often pointed at Arthur Weigall, a respected Egyptologist who was offended that Lord Carnarvon had given the story to the London Times and not to him. Weigall was also a journalist and theatrical set designer so he knew how to spin a convincing story. He didn’t have to try hard. Back in 1909 newspapers around the world had speculated on the strange events around mummy case number 22 542 held at the British Museum. Several people who came into contact with it, whatever that exactly means, suffered horrid fates. It was claimed that a photographer who photographed the casket killed himself after his developed plates revealed the cold, hateful face of an ancient priestess staring back at him.


 Before Edward Said got hold of the word, an orientalist was a scholar interested in ancient Egypt and the Near East. An authentic orientalist was supposed to be fluent in several dead languages and an astute art historian as well, able to date artifacts at a glance and spot anomalies. Despite having one of the most exotic job descriptions on the planet, orientalists spent a lot of time painstakingly deciphering fragments of papyri and if they were good enough to be given charge of an excavation that meant months in the disease ridden desert caught in the negotiations between British and Egyptian authorities. Given a limited season to work, they often had to call a halt to the excavation and wait for some detail to be worked out in London. The images of the orientalists as either toffee-nosed eggheads in linen suits or rugged adventurers in khaki shirts are wildly wrong. Most of them came from the epicentre of the middle class and their interest in the ancient world reflected a quiet alienation from the mainstream. Weigall’s story of Tutankhamen’s curse was scurrilous but he believed that Egypt’s antiquities should remain in the country and fought for that. Carter was also fired from his job as inspector for the Egyptian Antiquities Service when he took sides with the Egyptian guards against foreign visitors. They were also in the habit of upsetting long held biblical doctrines and weren’t to be trusted.

Too little is known about Mohamed Aboudi. He was one of the few Egyptian orientalists working in the 1920s. His guidebooks to the ruins of ancient Egypt carry a scholarly authority, well mapped and frequently advising the visitor to pay attention to small details whose significance could easily be overlooked. A photo online suggests he came from a wealthy family, which is a given since only very wealthy Egyptians could afford interest in ancient history. Also, the British authorities kept Egyptians at a distance in case they got any ideas about national rights.  He was also a photographer and used his images to illustrate his books. It can seem sometimes as though it was impossible to take a bad shot of an ancient monument, or an original one. Lehnert and Landrock produced photos of this statue of Rameses II at Luxor taken from almost the same position as the one above. The emphasis in photographs of ancient monuments was always on size and scale. The figure just behind Rameses is of his most beloved wife, Nefertari. She is probably twice the size of an average person so does it need to be said that Rameses had a high opinion of himself?

In the 1920s orientalism was still a highly regarded discipline, people were making discoveries that rewrote history, several important languages still required decipherment and governments and educational institutions weren’t yet infected by the doctrine that business was their sole raison d'être. So what did orientalists think of all the European studios setting up business in Cairo and photographing the ‘essence’ of Egypt for customers back home? As long as romantic interest in Egypt was sustained the orientalists kept their prestige, but then they also had to contend with tourists who were often both bored and amazed by how tedious the work of an archaeologist appeared in real life. Lehnert and Landrock never produced an image that wasn’t a cliché. You couldn’t seriously consider them great artists, not against some of the photographers who had already documented Egypt nor against the standards of what was being produced in Europe at the time, but the point of clichés is that they meet assumptions. They depict what people want to believe in. The photo above came from the Scortzis Company, preceding Lehnert and Landrock by a decade though the work of both companies is almost indistinguishable. In the popular imagination, Egypt was a land still dominated by ancient mysteries. A study of a shepherd and his flock resting at an oasis with the pyramids in the background said it all.

Osiris, god of the underworld, was killed by Set, god of the desert and of chaos. Isis gathered all the remnants of her late husband - except his penis, which she threw into the Nile – and assembled Horus, the falcon headed god of the sky. For centuries Horus was the chief deity of southern Upper Egypt and Seth of the northern delta -Lower Egypt, and the two gods engaged in a long metaphysical war. Around 3000 BCE the two states united, which finally brought the gods to the negotiating table. The temple to Horus at Edfu was completed during the reign of Ptolemy XII, making it one of the last great monuments of ancient Egypt. The figure in this photo is usually reckoned to be Ptolemy, It is on the entrance wall to the temple, a building which, in photos at least, could pass for a late 20th century government office block.



  1. Smart post and so good blog
    thanks for you good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog Daily Life in Ancient Egyptian and more Ancient Egypt Mummies thanks again admin


Add comments here