Staff Breakfast: The Meroë Head

One of my favourite objects in the museum and now the subject of a designated Room 3 exhibition: The Meroë Head.

BM staff at the weekly staff breakfast were introduced to the team behind the conservation, interpretation and display of this remarkable object – buried in the sands of Sudan and discovered in 1911.

The head, made of cast bronze using the “lost wax method”, once formed part of a statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC-AD 14).

The statue was decapitated by the rivals of Rome, and ritually buried far from the borders of the Roman Empire.

Bronze head from an over-life-sized statue of Augustus: the head is broken through the neck but is otherwise in an excellent state of preservation.  There are four fragments of plaster from the head. The eyes are inlaid, with glass pupils set in metal rings, the irises of calcite. The eyebrows are plastically rendered. The emperor's head is turned to his right, with the pronounced twist to the neck typical of Hellenistic work. The hair falls on the brow in the divided and curving cut that marked most of Augustus's portraits as emperor.  The facial planes are broad. The mouth is slightly downturned, a feature of late Hellenistic portraiture. The ears project markedly, the upper lobes bending forwards.

Credit:British Museum

The Room 3 display returns the head to its former glory – showing how important lighting and good object mounting is to a successful exhibition. Even more amazing is that the lighting lets people see ancient grains of sand fused to the head – almost as if it had just been uncovered!

Compared to other Room 3 exhibitions (search the blog for more information!) there was more of a focus on contextualisation.

The lead curator explained that when deciding which information to share alongside the head, context was a big priority: not just historical context in the ancient world, but in the modern world also.

As a result, the head was shown alongside photos from different periods of history – from the ancient to the present day, of various leaders and rulers whose statues had suffered a similar fate.

For those of you who prepared a Room 3 Exhibition proposal, you will remember the importance of narrative and telling a story – this story of Africa and Rome is brilliantly told.