A Century of Giving
Book of the Dead of Ramose
Egypt, New Kingdom
The Fitzwilliam Museum: E.2.1922
The Book of the Dead - a collection of prayers and magical incantations - was made for Ramose, a high official who lived in the 13th century BC. Usually written on papyrus rolls, they were buried with the dead and functioned as a kind of magical document to assist people through the dangers and difficulties of their passage in the after-life.
The scroll was discovered in Egypt in 1922, 'roughly unrolled, and left lying in a heap covered with rubbish, in the tomb doorway'. It was purchased by the Fitzwilliam soon after for only £40, one of the most important acquisitions ever made using Friends' money.
The papyrus was originally some 20m long and was probably buried soon after completion, thus helping to ensure its remarkable preservation. Apart from two sections displayed in the Museum, most of it languished in storage here until 2005, when a conservation grant became available. By this time, the Fitzwilliam had its own paper conservation studio. In 2007, the fully conserved papyrus was put on display for three months. Link to online exhibition
Thousands of fragments were painstakingly pieced together in their proper sequence - using little tabs of Japanese tissue paper - then mounted and sealed between thin sheets of glass for permanent storage and display. Although the papyrus has darkened and the vivid colours have faded somewhat, it is now possible, as never before, to appreciate the extraordinary quality of its execution.
Cockerell - who was fascinated by Egypt - made several trips to the Orient himself, in the company of the writer Wilfrid Blunt and his wife. He bought this papyrus, along with many other Egyptian artefacts, with the help of the Museum's first Honorary Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities, Frederick W. Green.