Contributors: Maria Kalinowska (Faculty Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw), Milena Chilińska (Faculty Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw)
Location: The Russian State Library, Moscow, Russia
Description: This travel diary belonged to Juliusz Słowacki (born 1809 in Krzemieniec, Volhynia, now part of Ukraine, died 1849 Paris), second only to Adam Mickiewicz as the most important Polish Romantic poet. He is considered one of the most important Polish writers influencing national consciousness and culture, expressing the problems of modern Polish history in the greatest depth. Słowacki’s oeuvre reflects the European historiosophical and aesthetic issues of his time. Romantic ideals of freedom, revolution, progress, and sacrifice, as well as Romantic irony and artistry, gain unique and original interpretations in his works. Because of the prevailing political situation in his homeland, he lived in exile and travelled throughout Western Europe from the early 1830s onwards, never able to return to Poland.
From 1836 to 1837 Słowacki completed a major journey to Greece and the Middle East. He made extensive notes and drawings on his journey, as well as drafts of poems, in a notebook now known as the Eastern Diary. This notebook was thought to have been lost, but in 2010 it resurfaced unexpectedly in a library in Moscow. The story of this document is as fascinating as the story of Słowacki’s journey itself.
Description: In the early 1820s, the British Museum passed up the opportunity to purchase what is now among the most celebrated objects in the Sir John Soane Museum and, according to Tim Knox, “one of the most spectacular Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt” (105): the alabaster sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, dating from about 1279 BC. It was carved from a single block of semi-transparent aragonite and covered with hieroglyphs from the Book of Gates. Inside, on the floor of the coffin, an image of the goddess Nut, guardian of the dead king’s soul, has been incised. (1) Admittedly, the price tag was 2,000 pounds, and the precise value of newly excavated antiquities from Egypt—received as curiosities more ‘wondrous’ than aesthetically pleasing—was difficult to establish. After some protracted dithering, the object went instead, in 1824, to John Soane whose house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was not just a working architect’s studio, but also a dramatic showcase for his collections of architectural fragments, antiquities, artworks, and curiosities – many of which are documented in this watercolour by Richardson, Soane’s former pupil and assistant. The sarcophagus, given pride of place, can be thought of as a romantic ‘medium’ apart from the occult connotations of the term: it is itself a transported or displaced vehicle for transport into the afterlife, a museum monument to the way memory can be materialized, and death made a living (if empty) object of meditation in the present. It is also part of a narrative about the attractions of Egypt for Romantic traveller-explorers, and the perils of imperial appropriation.