Between Oedipus and the Sphinx: Freud and Egypt

7 August 2019 to 13 October 2019

This new exhibition explores Freud’s enduring fascination with Egypt evident both in his writings and in his collection of antiquities.

Detail from Freud’s print of Oedipus and the Sphinx by Ingres

A painting of Oedipus’ encounter with the Sphinx famously hung beside Freud’s couch. Nobody doubts the significance of Oedipus to the development of Freud’s thought but the presence of the Sphinx reminds us of his less celebrated interest in Egyptian culture. Egyptian artefacts form the largest part of Freud’s collection and lie behind his ‘archaeological metaphor’ – one of his most productive methods for exploring the psyche and developing the practice of psychoanalysis.

Figure of Sphinx, Italian, late 5th to early 4th century BC

Freud was thinking about the archaeology of the mind in tandem with important developments in professional archaeology and Egyptology. This fascinating new exhibition will bring Freud into dialogue with his contemporary Flinders Petrie, the first UK Professor of Egyptology and enable us to compare their thoughts on archaeology and their respective collections of artefacts.

Exploring the themes of  Egyptomania, sexuality, death and more, objects from Freud and Petrie’s own personal collections will be displayed side by side.

Egypt also played an increasingly prominent role in Freud’s writings. In his psychobiography of Leonardo da Vinci, the Egyptian goddess Mut holds the key to the artist’s sexual and creative identity. Egypt again takes centre stage in Freud’s final work Moses and Monotheism, published 80 years ago, where he makes the scandalous claim that Moses was not a Jew but an Egyptian.

This Summer exhibition will explore all these themes and more, with the opportunity to see some never-before displayed Egyptian treasures from Freud’s collection up close.

Gilded mummy mask, Egyptian Late Period