Angela Stienne
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The mummy’s foot
in Mummified
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This chapter focuses on Dominique Vivant Denon, director of the Louvre in the early nineteenth century and possibly the most prolific mummy collector in Europe. Denon was a member of the scientific commission that accompanied Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. He returned to France with a mummified foot, which became the centrepiece of his collection and inspired a story by the celebrated writer Théophile Gautier.

Denon went on to acquire a full mummy from the collection of Napoloeon’s wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, following her death. This mummy became the subject of a private unwrapping, for which we have a detailed report and sketches. Denon also acquired two mummy heads, one of which remains in storage in the Louvre to this day.

The chapter concludes with an earlier story about a mummy’s foot. In 1763, doctors performing the first dissection of a mummy in Britain were surprised to find an onion attached to its foot. A quarter of a century later, in 2016, the author encountered this same foot by chance in the Hunterian Museum in London. This strange relic raises uncomfortable questions about the treatment of human remains and the ethics of displaying them in museums.

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The stories behind Egyptian mummies in museums


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