Marble statue of a youth on horseback

Detection: Disagreement and Despondency

Icon of St. George (“The Black George”)

South Wimbledon


White porcelain ‘moon jar’

Ruislip Gardens

Chalfont & Latimer

Westminster Abbey (Collegiate Church of St Peter, Parliament Square) - part two

Hungerford bridge (part one)



Armada service

Waterloo bridge (part five)

Brass head with beaded crown and plume

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Physically dominating the huge Egyptian Sculpture Gallery in the British Museum are numerous fragments of massive images of pharaohs, from huge heads such as that of Ramesses II to, perhaps more tellingly, a large granite fist. These fragments are a strong reminder of how rulers throughout the world have created powerful images of themselves to celebrate or commemorate their power, might and achievements, and sometime these images have lasted thousands of years after their deaths. Examples from various times and places can be found throughout the Museum, of which only a small selection are shown here. But as the tiny ivory of a pharaoh that opens this chapter also reminds us, images of rulers and powers can be far more intimate and intended for a wide variety of purposes.


Lewis Chessman (king).

The images of the rulers in these pages are rarely realistic portraits. They usually present an idealized image, sometimes possibly far from what the ruler may have looked like. Rare exceptions are the medal of the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus, often said to be the earliest portrait medal of the European Renaissance, and the desire of the Mughal rulers of India to be depicted in life-like portraits. The wooden ndop, for example, were not intended to be naturalistic portrayals, but representations of the king's spirit and as an encapsulation of the principals of kingship.

The images here were made for many different reasons. Some, such as the head of Alexander the Great and the image of the first Japanese shogun, were made centuries after their subjects had died, in order to commemorate their achievements. Others were made by the rulers to keep the memory of their achievements alive after their deaths. The 3600-year-old statue of Idrimi, king of Alalakh in what is today Turkey, is visually striking but also contains a long inscription describing his life story. The two images of the Roman emperors in this chapter are among the many statues of Roman emperors erected across the Roman empire - not simply to remind the people of the empire who was the ruler, in the way images of Queen Victoria were found across the British empire, but also to act as a focus of the religious cult that surrounded the emperor, a central element of the way the empire worked.


Benin Queen Mother

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