Belzoni’s Tomb
  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood


In Regency London, the south side of Piccadilly near Old Bond Street was known for a particularly gaudy edifice. The building, covered in pseudo-hieroglyphic script, recalled the recently excavated temple at Dendera in Egypt. Sphinxes presided over the entrance above giant, lurid statues of Isis and Osiris. To Leigh Hunt’s fastidious eye, this faux-Egyptian erection distinguished itself amongst the red-brick boutiques of Piccadilly as an “uncouth anomaly,” a “practical joke.”1 The fact that William Bullock, a showman and collector of curiosities from Liverpool, had given his new premises the grandiose title “London Museum” only compounded the jarring effect. Two hundred years on, the unblushing nature of the building’s Egyptian references would suggest less fraternity with a museum than a Las Vegas theme hotel. Regency Londoners were similarly skeptical about the establishment’s self-description. Bullock’s lowbrow answer to the British Museum soon gained the nickname “The Egyptian Hall,” a title that captured both the orientalist motifs of its outside and the miscellaneous entertainment to be found within.2 In 1811, Jane Austen wandered through rooms filled with stuffed birds, boa constrictors, giraffes and bears. Bullock maintained this permanent collection of natural curiosities and exotica, but cannily reserved other rooms to rotating exhibitions. In the following decades, his West End emporium hosted art shows, panoramas and dioramas, pseudo-scientific demonstrations, Napoleon’s carriage, and gala appearances by Tom Thumb.


British Museum Romantic Period Visual Medium Visual Culture Cultural Elite 
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© Gillen D’Arcy Wood 2001

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  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood

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