The newly opened Jafar Gallery has nothing to do with Disney’s Aladdin, but it is full of an exotic collection of antiquities. The core of the collection consists of items gathered by an old Etonian Major William Joseph Myers, who bequeathed them to the Headmaster of Eton College upon his death at the end of the 19th century. It also includes gifts from the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Carnarvon of Tutankhamun fame and as well as items from archaeologist Leonard Woolley’s Al-Mina excavations.
It’s only a small museum, one room in fact. In the centre of the room is a beautifully painted coffin, only one of four to depict the pharaoh Thutmosis III, dating from c. 960-900 BCE. Mounted in a manner that allows viewers to see the intricately detailed and colourfully decorated interior and exterior.
Around the room are beautifully presented cabinets, each given a Roman numeral and different theme; from Pre-Columbian to Mummification and Writing. Below each case are drawers to open which include more incredible artefacts.
The most notable thing about the museum is the lack of interpretation. Gone are the distracting introduction and object labels. Instead the objects are presented alone, with only a little number alongside for reference. This is a purposeful move, with the aim to encourage encounters with the past on the views own terms, allowing discussion before answers are given. However, answers are still accessible, in the form of a beautifully presented, pocket size handbook that you can easily navigate for further information when a particular objects peeks your interest.
There are human remains on display. I think it would have been quite striking if it had been decided that these individuals were given a label that singled them out from the rest of the collection as human remains. The Egyptians believed that as long as their name was spoken they would live on. Since the names of these individuals has not remained in the written records the ability to differentiate them from objects could be an important method of highlighting their significance and presenting them with a high level of respect.
It would have been interesting to see information about the acquisition of the items in the museum, but admittedly this would make for a wordy object handbook, however such transparency is both important and interesting for visitors.
It’s an incredible collection and to see such a range of items from a variety of cultures in a small space is pretty special. The hope is that the new collection layout can support teaching and learning, that it will be accessible for the boys at the school, the local community (it’s open on Sunday afternoons) and is part of outreach work in the form of the ‘mobile museum’ of artefact for the area.
Eton College has three little museums, so it’s worth visiting them all if you are in the area. In addition to this one there is The Museum of Eton Life and The Eton College Natural History Museum, all of which are open 2:30 – 5pm on Sunday during school term time.