Saturday, June 27, 2015

EGYPTIAN ART


Francesco Abbate
Translation-
H.A. Fields
Octopus Books
London
1972
ISBN: 7064 0062 3

This original named book contains sporadic text but appears the content of the book is mostly coloured entire page photographs of Egyptian art. The lovely small volume immediately appears child friendly and for the most part can be read in a day or two.

The author begins with a description of the values the ancient Egyptians put on to art being given magical properties whether in funerary material, temple situations or as personal adornment, art had a purpose. Soon I come to the first set of photographs with these being images of a number of schist palettes from the Predynastic and Thinite periods leading up to the Old Kingdom complete with descriptions of the objects presented.

Our author explains of the standardization of the arts early on in Egyptian history to serve as a model for the needs of the king and his people. The author recounts the story of the recovery of a book written by the god of wisdom Toth from the tomb of a magician nearby Memphis. Indeed the prince found the book as told in the tomb which instead of being dark was as light as day from the glow of the book.

There follows a conversation between the deceased man and the prince in which the prince wants to take the book but can only do so if he wins a contest in performing magic. The frequently passing photographs are an excellent assortment of masterpieces from a number of museums. These include a two page photo of the famous diorite statue of King Chephren.

The Old Kingdom tombs of Ti and Mererukas are certainly two of the finest of the period with their raised reliefs of the good life. Two photos are of a pillar in the small temple at Karnak built by the Middle Kingdom King Sesostris I. The magnificent reliefs demonstrate the mastery of relief carving in the beautiful little temple.

     'The nobles are full of misery and the low classes are full of joy...gold, lapis-lazuli, silver and turquoises, hang on the necks of slave-women while ladies walk the streets in rags...He who once did not even posses sandals, today is the master of treasure.'

The Middle Kingdom was a period of soulful thought in the reunification after the turmoil of the First Intermediate Period. The king was no longer a god as in the Old Kingdom but a man who must bear the responsibility of for the well being of his people. Our author is very knowledgeable and in a few pages is able to give a fairly substantial account of the history of ancient Egypt.

A variety of  photographs depict some very famous royal statues, fresco's and art of the New Kingdom. The depictions displaying rulers who are now confident warriors expanding the empire to its greatest extent under Thutmosis III. These victories bring spoils back to Egypt allowing for a prosperous population while making the priests of Ammon exceedingly rich.

Each ruler of the New Kingdom tried to out-due his predecessors accomplishments in their contribution to the building temples, shrines and of course the kings tombs in the Valley of Kings. The stage changes and a series of works of the Amarna period are put forth to the reader. As Iknaton's religious reforms involved only the king and royal family no connection was made by the god to the average Egyptian. This left no following and Iknaton's religious reforms were soon forgotten after the kings death.

Tutankhamen and his officials who were giving guidance to the boy king saw that Iknaton's capital at El Amarna was distant from the seats of power so the king moved his court to Memphis and returned to the worship of Ammon ending the heresy of his predecessor. The book includes a nice picture of a colossal statue of Ramses II from the now lost temple of Gerf Hussein which today lye's at the bottom of lake Nasser.

After the grandeur of the New Kingdom a period of decline existed where the two lands were ruled by foreign kings. Lybian dynasties gave way to Ethiopian kings who reversed the age old role of Egyptian domination over the southern neighbor. In turn the Persian kings took over Egypt as an out-post of their  empire under Nebuchadnezzer who's army had overthrown the Pharaoh Necho.

With the arrival of Alexander the great the Egyptian traditions were respected though the Egyptian people had now became second class citizens under the rule of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. With the death of Cleopatra VII Rome took control of Egypt reducing its status to provincialism.

I have very much enjoyed this book and though not complex the author managed to lay down a good account of Egyptian history. The 103 photographs presented many exceptional pieces with a number of these artifacts being new to me. Between the text and the choice of objects I am impressed and would have no hesitation giving this volume to a young person.

     'Death presents itself to me like the aroma of myrrh, as when one is sailing on a windy day. Death presents itself to me like the scent of lotus-flowers, as when one is sitting on the edge of intoxication. Death presents itself to me like a familiar road, as when one returns from war to ones own home...'

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ancient Egypt As It Was


Charlotte Booth
Quid Publishing
2008
ISBN: 978-0-7627-7058-8

Here we have an imaginative concept as a tourist guide to Thebes in 1200 BC. The guide opens with a historical rundown of Egyptian history leading up to the early descendants of Rameses II and the holy city of Thebes. The author deals briefly with Egypt's unification at the dawn of dynastic history. The reader is introduced to a number of important deities and a quick layout of the cultural development of the Egyptian civilization through time.

The brief sections which the pages are divided into are informative especially the nomes of Egypt which are rarely represented in publication. The author deals with the nuances of societal structure of the age including status and the division of wealth. The ancient Egyptian lady was not subservient to men but could posses assets and estates and could even loan money to her husband unlike in many other cultures.

In the second chapter the guide moves to the noisy city of Thebes which can be as noisy at night as the day. A number of small maps give the landmarks to the Theban zone including the temple at Karnak and its numerous subsidiary temples dedicated to a number of other gods beside Amun the temple of Karnak's central god. Ms Booth guides the reader around Luxor temple as well the temples and shrines at Deir el Bahri except Hatshepsut's.

Interesting are the concepts of situations presented the ancient visitor which include the 100 year old ruins of the flooded mortuary temple of Amenhotep III that in its already abandoned state can be visited through out including the sacred spaces no longer occupied by the kings mortuary priests. Of The Chapel of the White Queen the author says;

     "The chapel as it stands, was built by the heretic king, but was strangely enough not destroyed with the others from his reign, although certain elements can be dated to the earlier reign of Amenhotep Akheppere, and some kitchen buildings still produce food for the festivals on the west bank.

Although abandoned after the reign of the heretic king, it has since been added on by Ramses, and the enclosure wall of his mortuary temple abuts its western wall."

The author makes the statement that most of the tombs in the Valley of Kings are in the western valley when in reality they are in the eastern valley. It is at this point that the book loses some of its effect as the author describes sites including the royal necropolises and the contents of those tombs that would absolutely not have been on the tourists path in 1200 BC.

The reader is next guided to the sites around Egypt outside the Theban zone to Mennefer, Pr-Ramese and the Temple of Ra at Iunu. The vignettes the book is broken into allows for little flow in the text creating lots of little points of interest but no connective story line. Having laid out the tourists landscape Ms. Booth presents native customs of entertainment depending on your budget.

There is lots to do including jumping, playing games, hunting hungry hippos or whacking birds on the head with a stick, or better yet just go back to bed. Thankfully the Egyptian calendar was full of festivals for the public to participate in. Ms. Booth lays down how to, and what to buy while at Thebes but recommends that blank rolls of papyrus make for an excellent light currency to pay for goods.

The reader is informed of various words and phrases to help communicate with the locals including dealing with health issues should the visitor experience illness while travelling. The guide ends with a section on reference and resources for the reader to follow up on the subject.

I found the books concept interesting from the start and was filled with many tidbits that one would not normally find. It must be noted that the choppy nature of the books various elements removed all flow resulting in the book being slightly tedious and boring.

The lack of coloured photos might also make this book less appealing to many readers including younger readers. "Ancient Egypt As It Was" is not a book to rush out to get and certainly nothing I will re-visit in the future.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Mountains of the Pharaohs

Zahi Hawass
Random House
United States of America
2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-385-50305-1
First Edition

This nice sized book by Zahi Hawass begins with an introduction to the history of the Giza plateau with King Khufu and his architect Hemiunu choosing the place for the kings pyramid. A couple generations later the plateau was essentially finished as the royal burial ground of the Fourth Dynasty. The incredible monuments had begun their fame that would draw visitors throughout the rest of history including a group of imaginative types who believe they were created so that the English race could read the mystery in the measurements of their construction.

This amazing dynasty began with Khufu's father King Sneferu and the building of his pyramid at Meidum that today looks more like a giant pillar than a pyramid. Sneferu gained the reputation of having been a wise king who went on to build more pyramids including the first true pyramid later on at Dashur and the Bent pyramid at that same site.

     'A very strange discovery was made by English archaeologist John Perring and Richard Howard Vyse as they explored this pyramid in the late 1830's. Their workmen were clearing the interior passages and suffering greatly because of the intense heat. On October 15 1839, they opened a tunnel that led to one of the interior chambers. Suddenly, they were greeted by a refreshing draft of cool air, so strong that it blew out their torches. The wind continued for two days, and then stopped as suddenly as it had started, leaving the archaeologists completely mystified as to its source.'

The chapters are short and almost completely void of pictures except for a small group of coloured photographs near the middle of the book. With the death of Snefuru his son Khufu mounts the throne and moves his court to Giza where his pyramid was to be built but first his palace and administration buildings had to be built including a canal dug to receive ships that will bring supply's needed in the building and the leveling off of the site to begin the foundation of the pyramid.

The pyramid rose quickly as Khufu's court settled down to the kings business from Aswan to Giza to Heliopolis. In reality the kings court was as much a bureaucracy as the kings extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, grand children to the kings crown prince. Not helpful to archaeologists today is the number of these royals who bore the same name or names similar. So far I am enjoying this read and find it suitable to a teen though the lack of pictures might be a turn off even so the book is likely to be enjoyed by readers far above those young Egyptian enthusiasts.

After a successful reign Khufu dies leaving his heir Djedefre to make the final arrangements for his fathers mortuary needs including the sealing of boats in the boat pits dug for that purpose. With Khufu's passing Djedefre chooses a high plateau at Abu Rawash overlooking his fathers pyramid to build his own pyramid and mortuary complex. The site at Abu Rawash has been particularly badly damaged with the kings statues being smashed with what may have been vengeance and the site quarried away for stones to build other projects up to modern times.

The intrigues of this dynasty follow the death of Khufu and have created imaginative scenarios in the minds of past explorers. In Khafre's mortuary complex we find one of the few well preserved Old Kingdom funerary temples decorated with many statues of the king of which one is likely the great masterpiece in royal statuary of the Old Kingdom. Arriving at the photographs the reader finds a bonnie lot of sixteen images mostly of the pyramids mentioned.

      'The relationships between Khafre's pyramid temples and the Sphinx temple also link the Sphinx to Khafre: Khafre's valley temple sits on the same rock-cut terrace as the Sphinx temple. The fronts and backs of the temples are nearly aligned and the walls of both are built in the same style-large limestone blocks with harder red granite added as a finish, and there is evidence that these limestone blocks were quarried from the Sphinx ditch itself.

The author goes forward explaining the personalities of Khafre's court and their respective burial houses at Giza. A fascinating read if I can keep straight the queens all bearing identical names and who is next in line of an uncertain succession. The death of Khafre, (perhaps before any of his queens) may have left a void in this succession with the kings heir Menkaure too young to rule so that Khafre's brothers may in turn have held the post briefly before Menkaure was able to rule.

In this kings pyramid we find the smallest of the three kings pyramids at Giza but built with costlier materials including a granite casing for at least some of the pyramid and many of the Old Kingdoms finest statues of the ruler with the goddess Hathor and nome gods of Upper Egypt. When the king flew to heaven his successor Shepseskaf completed Menkaure's mortuary complex in cheaper materials like mud brick.

In the next section the author deals with the modern discoveries of the city of the pyramid builders and their mostly mud brick tombs to the south of the pyramids. These discoveries while slightly mundane introduce the reader the sympathetic standard of living endured by the builders as not slaves being brutally beaten but to fellow men and women in joint causes to the betterment of the king and well being of his people.

In the end the house of the Fourth Dynasty passes to the kings of the Fifth Dynasty who move their palaces and burial structures to Abusir leaving Giza to be abandoned,vandalized and quarried. The statues of the kings in the mortuary temples being smashed to create funerary offerings for lesser burials at the end of the Old Kingdom.

Zahi Hawass has created in this document a specific and understandable format of the family of King Snefuru and his descendants. Particularly those members of his family who created the monuments on the Giza plateau including the great pyramid. I have really only one complaint in that the book could have used a map to demonstrate the sites at Giza being put forward. Mountains of Pharaohs would make an excellent and uniquely informative gift to anyone interested in ancient Egypt or Pyramids.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Illustrated Guide To The Egyptian Museum In Cairo


The American University in Cairo Press
Cairo, Egypt
2001
Dar El Katube No. 9227 / 00
ISBN 978 977 424 608 1

This guide to the Egyptian museum in Cairo is a nice size to carry around the museum, and a jewel box of colourful pictures which include some of the finest works of Egyptian art created. The introduction is by Dr. Zahi Hawass complete with very nice images of Egypt's first national museum founded in the Boulaq neighborhood of nineteenth century Cairo. The Boulaq Museum was prone to flooding added to the fast growing size of the collection necessitated its move to a new home in Tahrir square in 1902.

The guide contains lots of useful information to visitors of the museum including maps and other practical notes, advice, and chronology. As the visitor enters the museum they will come upon room 43 which the guide gives the reader a description of Egypt's Predynastic period including the unifying of Upper and Lower Egypt and into its Archaic period of Dynasties I, and II, leading to the Old Kingdom beginning with the famous palette of Narmer of Dynasty 0.


The first unusual things that caught my eye are four necklaces from the Thinite period of Dynasty I and II. Three of the necklaces were found by Z. Saad at Helluan in 1942 and the last in 1945. One of the necklaces, a faience choker with a pendant of a falcon on a boat having been found on the neck of a First Dynasty mummy. The guide is of course packed with many of the collections most famous pieces but with a considerable many more like the previously mentioned necklaces being unknown to me.

A parade of minimally dressed officials of the Old Kingdom, their servants, and their rulers pass often in excellent states of preservation. The men wear a short skirt or loincloth and perhaps some jewelry while the woman wear tight sheer fitting dresses with or without the breasts covered completed with accessories.

In room 41 can be found some fragments from the Fourth Dynasty Mastaba tomb of Prince Nofermaat at Maydum. Unique in its technique of inlaying coloured paste into its limestone carved scenes produced immensely beautiful works of art that unfortunately had the fault of after the paste elements dried out they proceeded to fallout of the limestone intaglio.

The reader is next on to the Middle Kingdom dominated by Theban rulers of Dynasty XII who moved their capital to the Fayum. This is ancient Egypt's 'Classical  Period' in which the arts excelled and in some cases were never to be improved upon with particular importance in the thoughtful and reflective literature of the age. My favorite sculpture of the age is likely a black granite bust of Amenenhat III wearing the wig of a preist. One of a number of unique and stunning depictions of this late Middle Kingdom ruler that are to be found in room 16.


The guide is fast moving with lots of provenance given to the objects on its pages. Unfortunately for me I am a lover of mummies and so far there are no mummies. The authors present a short rundown of the New Kingdom representing a number of attractive and colourful stela of minor officials followed by statuary of high officials and royalty located in room 12. The 1906 accidental discovery at Deir el Bahri of a shrine and statue dedicated to the cow goddess Hathor brought to light a monument in an outstanding state of preservation can also be found in the same room.

 As I get deeper into the guide the words and pictures vanish into the crevice of the book requiring the spine to be broken apart to catch those details. The famous Amarna period material kept in room 3 contains an image of a young girl eating a duck. This is such a rare depiction in thousands of years of ancient Egyptian art executed by a talented hand. So many masterpieces it is hard to choose but a less well known relief in the museum of a block representing prisoners being grabbed by the hair in a classic smiting scene is among the finest of such cheery scenes and a great work of art that can be found in room 14.


As I continue reading on into the Late period I am impressed by the huge number of sculptures and stelas in the guide from the court of the cachette deposit of statuary found by George Legrain at Karnak the beginning of the last century. With the Ptolemaic rulers Egyptian art became Hellenized containing both the traditional Egyptian formulas but modified to please Ptolemaic sensibilities.

The guide is next on to the boy King Tutankhamun and his treasures with a brief rundown of his life and the discovery of his tomb. The objects presented are completely standard choices used time and time again but that is to be expected for this museums guide. In room 4 on the first floor we have the jewelry vault including lots of magical gems though light on Old Kingdom material the guide is deservedly and thankfully heavy on Middle Kingdom royal jewelry. The Old Kingdom gold belt of Prince Ptahshepses being a favorite of mine. The jewels of the Middle Kingdom queens and princess's makes up a magnificent treasure within the jewelry collection without equal in quality and delicacy.

From room 4 the visitor will head next to room 2 containing the treasures of the pharaohs found by Pierre Montet at Tanis in the years surrounding the second world war. The tomb Montet found was that of the Pharaoh Pseusunnes I of Dynasty XXI. As luck would have it the tomb also contained the funerary remains and mummies of a number of other kings of the period.


Unlike the childish paraphernalia created to amuse the boy Tutankhamun here at Tanis Mr. Montet found equally stunning material but in this case created for a mature ruler and his class. Found on the mummy of King Pseusennes I was a double string of large lapis lazuli and gold balls. One of the lapis balls has an antique inscription dedicating it to the gods of Assur hundreds of years before the life of King Pseusennes I.

Walking down the long corridor of the first floor a visitor to the museum might be getting a little rundown by now but will here find a series of rooms devoted to grave articles and containing some very important finds. In room 12 the viewer will be met with objects from the Valley of Kings tomb of Amenhotep II, and the royal cachette tomb DB 320. Next door room 17 contains the grave hardware from the intact tomb of Sennedjem which contained the funerary remains of twenty members of his family.

A number of rooms are occupied with Middle Kingdom funerary material including the famous high quality models of Meketre found undisturbed in a secret chamber of his tomb.The guide moves on to sarcophaguses opening with a brief on the importance the sarcophagus took on in later periods when tombs decorated with magic spells were too expensive for most people to afford. This lead to the coffin texts covering the exterior and interior of coffins.


In room 43 on the first floor opposite the lunette can be found the grave good of Queen Tiye's parents Yuya and Tuya. When found in 1905 in the Valley of Kings their tomb was in good condition containing most of its furnishings and mummies in an excellent state of preservation. Visitors will find ostraka and papyrus documents in room 24 with an ostraka of a woman playing a lute. The artist who drew the woman has viewed her unconventionally from above creating an amazing sketch.

The viewer moves on now to room 19 which is filled with statuettes of various gods. At 88cm tall the gold and silver sarcophagus for a falcon is an eye catcher found among other gorgeous objects in the Dendera treasure. About a thousand Fayum Roman period portraits have come to light over the years from a number of cemeteries around Egypt. The portraits were found on mummies or in some cases next to the mummy including some being found by Sir Flinders Petrie in his excavations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The book ends with a five page look at mummies, in this case the most famous kings for a total of six mummies for the entire 632 page guide. The almost total exclusion definitely for me represents a low point for this publication. The back of the book contains a helpful list of images of objects and where they can be quickly located both in the guide and the museum.

Overall the guide is a very fine and useful thing to have while touring this vast museum and its treasures. There were minor printing mistakes but nothing of any consequence. Depending on the visitor or reader this guide may be helpful to those studying the Karnak cachette statue deposit as a the large amount of that material is represented here but if mummies are your thing than this read is a total loss.

Notes:

Many thanks to Derek Wilson who picked this guide up for me on his latest journey to Cairo.

Also sold as;
The Treasures of Ancient Egypt
2003
ISBN 13: 978-88 540-0834-2

1. Statue of Thutmosis III as Sphinx: Tour Egypt
2. Coffin of Psusennes I: Jerzy Strzelecki
3. Yuya's Mask with thanks to Jon Bodsworth