Art and Architecture, History, Reviews

Review: Moser, Wondrous Curiosities

jacket imageIn a review written for the January 9th edition of The Independent Nicola Smyth praises Stephanie Moser’s new book, Wondrous Curiosities: Ancient Egypt at the British Museum, for its revealing look at the powerful role of museums in shaping our understanding of science, culture, and history. According to Smyth, Moser’s book is a fascinating study of the ways the British Museum has extended the domain of western culture by appropriating not only the physical objects in its collection—but their cultural significance as well. Citing artifacts gained through looting or as trophies of war, to the considerations of pattern and juxtaposition meant to manipulate viewer’s perspectives of the objects on display, Smyth writes:

Moser makes a compelling case that, throughout its early history, the British Museum’s attitude to its ancient Egyptian artifacts reinforced one basic message: that the story of the ancient world was one of a rise from primitive beginnings to the classical perfection of ancient Greece. The story, in other words, of the triumph of western art.&hellip Moser presents a picture of an institution in which—in the early years at least—the Egyptian antiquities were badly presented in ill-lit and overcrowded chambers, uncontextualized, and contrasted unfavorably with the classical Greek and Roman exhibits.

And with a wealth of illustrations to augment this eye-opening critical account of how the British Museum acquired and displayed its Egyptian collections, Wondrous Curiosities will fascinate curators and scholars of British history, Egyptology, art history, archeology, and the history of science.