From Egypt to Pisa

Gaetano Rosellini and his collections

February 19, 2022 – September 30, 2023


On the occasion of its 60th anniversary, the Egyptological Collections of the University of Pisa “From Egypt to Pisa: Gaetano Rosellini and His Collections” exhibition opened on Saturday, February 19.

Conceived a year after the passing of Edda Bresciani, the famous Egyptologist who gave the Collections her name, the exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Opera della Primaziale Pisana (OPA), which has loaned the University three precious artifacts from its collection of Egyptian antiquities.

The exhibition offers the opportunity to admire a selection of the small, large masterpieces donated to the Opera della Primaziale Pisana by Gaetano Rosellini (1796-1863) in 1830, upon his return from the famous “French-Tuscan Expedition to Egypt and Nubia” (1828-1829), led by his nephew Ippolito Rosellini (1800-1843) and J.F. Champollion; Gaetano had taken part in the expedition as an engineer and architect.

At the center of the exhibition are three particularly interesting pieces from the collection of the Opera della Primaziale Pisana: the fragment of a mural bas-relief, the head of a female statue, and the fragment of a granite sarcophagus.

They are displayed inside a glass case in the second room of the Egyptological Collections, where the Egyptian-style cabinet containing many objects from the Picozzi Collection, donated by Gaetano’s niece, Laura Birga Picozzi, to the University of Pisa in 1962, is also kept.

The unprecedented juxtaposition of these artifacts thus makes it possible to bring parts of a long-separated historical heritage closer together.

Finds from the Opera della Primaziale Pisana

1. Fragment of a bas-relief

Opera della Primaziale Pisana, inv. 1963, n. 68

21×38 cm

The limestone bas-relief fragment, datable to the 19th dynasty, comes from a tomb in the necropolis of Deir el Medina (West Thebes) and presents the sculptor Ken and his sister Nefertari in the act of adoration before the god Anubis; the personage was part of the community of artists, craftsmen and laborers working in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Queens. Of him we know that he had two wives, the first Nefertari who bore him five children and the second, named Henutmehit, the mother of two others.

2. Head of a female statue

Opera della Primaziale Pisana, inv. 1963, n. 62

alt 21 cm

The woman’s head must have been part of a statue in the round; the facial features are scarcely legible because of chipping in the stone. The head is covered with a large wig with thin braids, in a style typical of the 19th dynasty, surmounted at the top by a wide band with a lotus flower falling in front on the forehead.

3. Fragment of sarcophagus

Opera della Primaziale Pisana, inv. 1963, n. 63

17,5×23 cm

The fragment belongs to a black granite sarcophagus of the late 18th dynasty; three other pieces of the same sarcophagus were purchased in Thebes in 1903 and are now preserved in Strasbourg (Egyptian Collection of the University). The sarcophagus was reused for a later burial, and the name of the first owner was abraded and the title and name of the new owner, Thutmosi, was carved on the surface in place of the other erased one.

Picozzi Collection

The Picozzi collection, which has a total of about a hundred pieces, consists of archaeological artifacts from the Nile Valley and Nubia. As in almost all the collections of the second half of the 19th century put together by travellers and diplomats going to Egypt, scarabs, amulets, statuettes of gods and funerary ones are in fact by far the most represented objects perhaps also because they respond to a certain taste of the time. In addition to archaeological artifacts from Egypt and Nubia from the Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman periods, an interesting set of prints and drawings are also part of the collection, among which a painting showing J.F. Champollion dressed up in Arabic clothes deserves to be mentioned.

The collection also includes ethnographic material relating to Egyptian and Nubian civilizations.

The collection was also accompanied by the original Egyptian-style cabinet on display today, expressly created to contain all the objects arranged on small shelves. Its shape is reminiscent at the top of the entrance pylons of an Egyptian temple with an obelisk in the center, above a small showcase with the smallest objects, intended to house the seven glass jars with sand.

An Egyptian collection, presumably traceable to the French-Tuscan expedition, is also found at the Museum of Human Anatomy “Filippo Civinini” (also part of the University Museum System), which houses two Egyptian mummies, one with the original coffin, beautifully painted and in excellent condition.


Exhibition curated by University of Pisa – Egyptological Collections “Edda Bresciani”
Curatorors: Chiara Bodei, Flora Silvano, Antonio Viti e Chiara Gavazzi
Technical and organizational coordination: Antonio Viti (SMA)
Restorations: Gianluca Buonomini
Administrative management: Segreteria Sistema Museale di Ateneo
Communication: Comunicazione Istituzionale del Rettore e dei Prorettori, Polo della Comunicazione e Polo Multimediale del Cidic – Centro per l’innovazione e la Diffusione della Cultura, Gruppo Comunicazione SMA
Photographs: Sistema Museale di Ateneo, Opera della Primaziale Pisana
Set up: Acme04
Acknowledgements: The exhibition and the reaarngement of the Egyptological Collections were made possible thanks to the invaluable collaboration of the Rectorate and General Management with their secretariats, the University Museum System, the Building Management, the Digital Infrastructure Management, the Tenders, Contracts and Logistics Management, the University of Pisa’s University Information System and the Team Service cooperative.
The exhibition could not have taken place without the availability of the Opera della Primaziale Pisana and the support in loan management of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the provinces of Pisa and Livorno.