Matilda Duncker

Egyptianizing Funerary Architecture in Victorian Britain: the consumption of bereavement

During the 19th Century obelisks and mausolea in the form of Ancient Egyptian pylons became familiar sights the cemeteries of Britain, as did cemetery architecture aping other Ancient Egyptian architectural forms. The very ubiquity of these motifs deters us from attempting an explanation for their presence and when, in the past, a variety of scholars have offered up discussions of the phenomenon, it has been within frameworks that have largely obscured from analysis the actors responsible for putting these memorials in cemeteries. Why, during a period often characterised by its intense interest in death and adherence to Christian mores, would it be deemed appropriate to mark the graves of Christian souls with patently heathen imagery? Using a combination of sources of data, the aim is to address three central research questions which will permit exploration of a variety of theoretical issues pertaining to the material, the processes in which it was involved, and the context within which it is situated:

1. Who erected Egyptianizing monuments and through which strata of society did the style spread?

2. To what extent did their purchasers and viewers differentiate Egyptianizing monuments from other styles?

3. Having considered this, is it possible to establish the contextual meaning of Egyptianizing monuments, both culturally and as social signifiers?

Three main types of material are available to address these questions: the monuments themselves, the census information concerning those involved in their erection, and a variety of contemporary texts including cemetery guides, cemetery regulations, stonemasons’ advertisements and other archive material.

Recipient of the RAI's Masters Dissertation Prize 2010

Funding organisation

  • AHRC


 Educational background

  • BA Hons, Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 2009
  • MA, Comparative Art and Archaeology, UCL, 2010

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