As part of the Ancient Worlds Project we’ve been looking recently at the walk-through between the Numismatics displays and the Mediterranean Gallery. I wondered if it might be a good spot to use some of the extensive plaster cast collection at the Manchester Museum. It includes copies of such famous sculpture from the ancient world as the Elgin Marbles, the Temple of Bassae and the Harpy Tomb at Xanthos in Turkey.
I suppose I talked my way into a job and so it was that I found myself in the rather cramped, dusty and a slightly creepy Large Object Store at the Manchester Museum. I had some accession numbers and found some of the casts quite quickly. Others were hidden from view behind a table on the Mezzanine floor above. They will need cleaning.
I cut through the packing to reveal the cast. It was a bit like how Howard Carter felt peering into Tutankhamun’s tomb except that instead of seeing everywhere the glint of gold I saw some rather frightening harpies or sirens. It brings to mind that wonderful episode in Jason and the Argonauts where the harpies are tormenting Phineas who had upset one of the gods. In the film – through the wonderful stop motion work of Ray Harryhausen – the Harpies were caught and put in cages. We’re planning to put together the sides of the tomb as a linear display in the walk-through.
Some people can be a bit sniffy about casts but it seems unlikely we’d be able to borrow the originals from the British Museum, there would probably be floor-loading problems and this is a walkway, not necessarily somewhere to show off somebody else’s prize exhibits. If only we could find a set of moulds or duplicate casts to fill the gaps we have in our series from the Harpies Tomb.
It would be nice to find the missing pieces from the friezes and show all four sides complete.
I’ve walked past those wrapped up casts many times and always wondered what delights were behind the bubble wrap.
I would be great to see some of them on display in the future.
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