Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire

A new exhibition, with an accompanying digital archive, exploring the crucial role that Freud’s collection of antiquities played in his development of the concepts and methods of psychoanalysis.

25 February 2023 to 16 July 2023

Freud's Antiquity Exhibition

A major new exhibition, with an accompanying digital archive, exploring the crucial role that Freud’s collection of antiquities played in his development of the concepts and methods of psychoanalysis.

Freud’s study at 20 Maresfield Gardens contains a vast array of figurines, books and artwork that either originate from, or are inspired by, the ancient world. He was a compulsive collector of antiquities, which according to the poet H.D. were intimately bound up with his development of the concepts and methods of psychoanalysis; they helped to ‘stabilise the evanescent thought’ that was continually at risk of dissipation.

However, in the institutionalisation of Freudian theory this rich and vital source of inspiration was neglected; we tend to be presented with a version of Freud the theorist as distinct from Freud the collector.

Object and Theory

Red-figure hydria depicting the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx from the Appollonia group

‘Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire’ will seek to examine this crucial link by bringing Freud’s collection into dialogue with his theories, in the hope that they will be mutually Illuminating. Co-curated with Professor Miriam Leonard (UCL), Professor Daniel Orrells (Kings College London) and Professor Richard Armstrong (University of Houston), the exhibition will discuss six separate aspects of Freudian theory alongside representative objects from the collection, spanning his entire psychoanalytic career from the early paper ‘The Aetiology of Hysteria’ (1896) to his final completed work Moses and Monotheism (1939). We will examine how the link between object and theory is conditioned by ‘libidinal cathexis’- it was Freud’s libidinal investment in his objects that allowed them to animate his thinking

Digital Archive

The exhibition includes a comprehensive digital multimedia resource, containing video recordings, podcasts, new rotating photographs of rarely seen objects from the collection, and a list of suggested reading.

Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire is organised by the Freud Museum London in association with University College London, King’s College London and University of Houston.


Print of “Une leçon clinique du Dr. Charcot à la Salpêtrière”, engraving by E. Pirodon after the oil painting by Andre Brouillet, 1887 (1857-1914).

Digital Archive

Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire

Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire is a digital archive which explores Freud’s lifelong fascination with the ancient world and his passion for collecting antiquities. This multi-media resource contains videos, podcasts, photographs and text panels which aim to trace the connections between Freud’s most important theoretical breakthroughs and his collection. Focussing on six key themes in Freud’s work, Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire shows how Freud’s desire for the ancient world helped animate the concepts and method of psychoanalysis.


Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire Press Coverage

Freud, the Antique Collector – The founder of psychoanalysis amassed thousands of ancient artefacts, which hoarded in his study. How did they influence his work? – The New Yorker

Objects collected by psychoanalyst go on showHam&High

Red-Figure Hydria of Oedipus and the Sphinx, Ancient Greece (380-360BCE)EMPIRE LINES x Freud Museum London Podcast

From the couch to the antique penis: what’s new at London’s Freud MuseumKurier (Austrian newspaper)

Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire“atom bomb of ideas”Astrofell blog

Sigmund Freud’s clutter excavated to reveal its treasuresIanVisits

On Sigmund Freud’s Couch. How did the founder of psychoanalysis live?Dzien Dobry (Polish TV)

Oedipus as the archetype of the neuroticFrankfurter Allgemeine

The International HourKan Israel National Radio

Antiquities Reveal Freud’s Developing Practice of Exploring the Mind’s LayersUniversity of Houston

The psychology of collecting: Freud’s Antiquity at the Freud MuseumMuseum Crush

Sigmund Freud “compulsive” collector of Etruscan, Greek and Roman artEtruscan Times

Exhibition Dates

25 February to 16 July 2023

Details on planning your visit and making a booking can be found on our Visit page.

Opening Times

Wednesday: 10:30 – 17:00
Thursday: 10:30 – 17:00
Friday: 10:30 – 17:00
Saturday: 10:30 – 17:00
Sunday: 10:30 – 17:00



Freud's desk and glasses

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Events - Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire

1 MarchGreek Tragedy and the Freudian Death Drive: Spectral Presences, online panel discussion.

3 MarchThe Many Lives of a Snake Goddess, in-house poetry reading with Ruth Padel.

4 May –  Drawing at the Freud Museum, in-house drawing class with Fay Ballard.

1 JulyCurating Freud’s Antiquity: Object, Idea, Desire, online conference.