Egyptian Avenue entrance, Highgate Cemetery, London

The obvious Egyptian influence of the gate to Egyptian Avenue in Highgate Cemetery, London

Please note: this exhibition is now closed. For exhibition updates, see the guide to temporary exhibitions.

Since the Roman Emperors starting shipping Egyptian Obelisks back to Rome, the West’s fascination with ancient Egypt has only intensified, aided and abetted by the likes of Napoleon and his ‘scientific’ campaigns of the early 1800s and Howard Carter’s opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb ninety years ago. As a result, not only are there many Egyptian antiquities scattered around the World but ancient Egyptian influence can be seen around us, almost everywhere. To celebrate the recent opening of the Quadriga Gallery in Wellington Arch, London, a series of exhibitions exploring England’s historical landmarks have been staged. And currently on show is Egypt in England: a look at how ancient Egypt has inspired the architecture of England over the last two hundred or so years.

The Quadriga Gallery, Wellington Arch in London

Wellington Arch's Quadriga Gallery, London

English Heritage’s Quadriga Gallery is in Wellington Arch, London.

Wellington Arch is in fact hollow, and up until 1992 it housed a small police station. In 1999 care of the Arch transferred to English Heritage, who have, in 2012, opened a new gallery space in London for exhibitions of England’s Heritage.

A quadriga is a chariot drawn by horses abreast of one another that featured in ancient sport and classical mythology. The Greeks raced these at their olympic games, and they were used in chariot races by the Romans. Apollo was frequently depicted driving a quadriga across the sky bringing daylight after night. Then and now, quadrigas are used to symbolise triumph; an appropriate emblem to be used on Wellington’s Arch, given it was built to commemorate Britain’s victories during the Napoleonic wars.

The Quadriga Gallery kicked off its new mission earlier this year with an exhibition on the past and future of Stonehenge. Now, until 13 January 2013, it is the architecture of England inspired by the ancient Egyptians that is on display.

Much of the exhibition comprises photographs and paintings of various buildings, mostly from London, and the origins of their Egyptian designs and features. Of course the Carreras building, an old, London cigarette factory, with a large bronze cat on either side of the entrance is included. This building has on its front façade false columns that are reminiscent of columns that have capitals that were intended to represent closed, papyrus buds. And example of these can be seen in Luxor Temple (below).

Carreras Building in London

The bronze cats and decorative columns with papyrus bud capitals on the Carreras Building in London.

Columns with closed papyrus-bud capitals in Luxor Temple

These columns in the Luxor Temple with their closed, papyrus-bud capitals are the kind of feature that inspired the false columns that decorate the façade of the Carreras Building (above).

A fascinating inclusion in the exhibition is a model of the boat that was built specifically to transport to London the obelisk that we know of as Cleopatra’s Needle. The obelisk now stands on the banks of the Thames in London.

The exhibition was curated by Chris Elliot, who has also produced a beautifully illustrated book, Egypt in England, which is published by English Heritage.

Entrance to the exhibition is £4 for an adult, and includes a visit to the roof terrace.

Reminder: this exhibition is now closed. For a list of current exhibitions, see the guide to temporary exhibitions.

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