Greek and Roman antiquities collected by King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, are to be reunited for the first time in 150 years for an exhibition of photography at The Queens Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse. The antiquities were acquired by the Prince on his 1862 tour of the Middle East, which is documented through the work of British photographer Francis Bedford in the exhibition Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East (8 March 21 July). The exhibition explores the cultural and political significance Victorian Britain attached to the region, then as complex and contested as it remains today.
Bedford, the first photographer to accompany a royal tour, took some 200 photographs on the Princes four-month journey through Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. On their homeward journey, the royal party stopped for a day in Rhodes, where the Prince acquired a number of antiquities that were subsequently photographed by Bedford (above left). Thanks to Bedfords work, Royal Collection Trust curators have been able to ascertain exactly which objects the Prince collected on that trip and to bring those that came into the Royal Collection back together as Bedford saw them, for the first time.
The 1862 expedition was designed to increase the heir to the thrones understanding of the area at a time when the Ottoman Empire (nominally in control of the lands through which the Prince was travelling) was disintegrating and Britain needed to secure the route to India. Meanwhile, leisure travel to the region was increasing, stimulated by recent major archaeological discoveries in the Middle East. The Prince kept a journal of his tour, with daily accounts of his travels and details of some of the antiquities he collected. The journal, which has been digitised for the first time, can be read online at www.royalcollection.org.uk/the-prince-of-wales-journal
In his journal entry of 15 May 1862, the Prince explains how the royal party came to Rhodes and acquired the antiquities. The Prince writes that they sailed for Kalavarda, which is still on the coast of the island of Rhodes
to see the excavating of some old Phoenician tombs. Several old vases & lamps etc were discovered while we [were] there...I had also purchased some antiquities wh[ich] were found near these excavations.
These antiquities, along with jewellery and other artefacts collected on the tour, were transported back to Britain. Some had been purchased as gifts, some were later given away by the Prince as presents and others were displayed at Sandringham House, Norfolk, the Princes main residence, where they have remained until now.
Bedfords photographs also came to be regarded as collectors items by a Victorian public hungry for imagery of sites of religious and cultural importance. His work was exhibited to great acclaim on the partys return to London and provoked much interest in the media. Prints were made of some of the images and sold to the public. However, Bedford inexplicably fell from fame, and his photographs of the royal tour have not been displayed
Exhibition curator Sophie Gordon said, Bedfords photographs were a revelation to the Victorian public, who really only knew the Middle East through prints, books and the Bible. The photographs were believed to present a truthful, objective view of the region. A selection of 172 photographs were displayed in London after the tour, and, with the additional interest from the royal connection, the exhibition was a huge success.
She added, It is wonderful to be able to bring these antiquities back together for the exhibition, largely as they appeared 150 years ago, thanks to Francis Bedford. Without Bedfords photograph it would not have been possible to identify which antiquities in the Royal Collection were acquired by the Prince of Wales in Rhodes.
The Prince of Waless interest in collecting is likely to have stemmed from his childhood. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert encouraged their sons and daughters to collect objects of interest as part of their education. The vast majority of objects collected by the Prince of Wales on his 1862 tour are from Rhodes. Those recorded in Bedfords photograph include Greek pottery c. 595-570 BC, glassware made on Rhodes c. 525-450 BC and an East Greek terracotta unguent jar in the shape of a young woman, c. 550-500 BC.