UCL News


Object, Idea, Desire: Exhibition of Freud’s antiquities collection co-curated by UCL academic

24 February 2023

A new exhibition at the Freud Museum London and accompanying digital archive bring rarely seen antiquities from Sigmund Freud’s extensive collection into dialogue with his key theories, co-curated by UCL Professor Miriam Leonard.

Freud's couch

In June 1938, an ageing cancer-stricken Sigmund Freud and his family were forced to leave Nazi-occupied Vienna and flee to London with a curious collection of ancient artefacts in tow. Freud’s study, preserved at his final home in Hampstead, contains a vast array of nearly 2,500 collected objects that originate from or are inspired by the ancient world.

‘Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire’ seeks to examine the link between the neurologist’s collection of antiquities and the development of his concepts and methods of psychoanalysis (a type of therapy which aims to reveal unconscious or subconscious thoughts).

Professor Miriam Leonard (UCL Greek & Latin), co-curator of the exhibition, said: “For the new exhibition, twenty-five key objects, books and prints, each normally hidden from view, will be offered for investigation at close range. Together they will offer a new understanding of Freud and his extraordinary understanding of the mind.

“Through his readings and travels, Freud developed an obsession with archaeology and he began to understand the mind as a kind of archaeological site which the psychoanalyst could excavate to uncover repressed memories. Freud frequently used the objects in his collection to explain his theories of the mind to his patients.”

Freud Spinx

The exhibition, curated by Professor Leonard alongside Professor Daniel Orrells (Kings College London) and Professor Richard Armstrong (University of Houston), will discuss six separate aspects of Freudian theory alongside representative objects from the collection, spanning his entire psychoanalytic career of over fifty years.

Visitors will also be able to access a comprehensive digital multimedia resource through QR codes on display which contain video recordings, podcasts, new rotating photographs of rarely seen objects, and a list of suggested reading for people who want to discover more.

Viewing Freud’s theories through the prism of his treasured pieces, the exhibition and its supporting archive will inspire contemplation on how we search for meaning in the artefacts that surround us and exposes the tension between the material and the ideal often highlighted by objects.

‘Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire’ opens at the Freud Museum London on 25 February and will run until 16 July 2023.



  • Credit: Freud Museum London

Media Contact

Molly Bridge

E: molly.bridge [at] ucl.ac.uk