Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tutankhamun's Egypt

Cyril Aldred
Charles Scribner's Sons
New York
ISBN 0-684-15795-0

Looking for the next volume from my collection to read I found three books I have not reviewed by the late Cyril Aldred and realized it was Christmas 2012 that I last reviewed the great mans work in his 'Jewels of the Pharaohs'.

You have to love a brief introduction and chronology with events of interest which occurred during Egypt's many dynasties including the Ptolemaic Dynasty who's pharaohs were responsible for the great temples at Dendera, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Esna, and Philae. The author begins with the Egyptian people and their lives in chapters that are short and filled with black and white pictures which often dominate the texts on many of the pages.

It amazes me how much information is crammed into the tomb paintings of the Egyptian nobles which by the Eighteenth Dynasty reveals the various trades and even how those trades were carried out. Inevitably the tomb paintings would always show the bountiful life with tomb owners sitting in front of tables overflowing with the produce of the land which made Egypt into a food exporter to her neighbors in hard times. The Kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty brought to the nobility of generations the sweet life.

In the pyramidion of the fallen obelisk from Karnak created by Hatschepsut it can be clearly seen that Amun has been attacked with a chisel and then re-carved at a later date. The same can be said for Amun's name on the obelisk leaving Hatschepsut and her throne name Maat-Ka-Ra untouched. A series of coloured images pass by including the launching of the night barque in the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of Kings. A statue of Amun bares the face of Tutankhamun representing likely the restorations carried out of Amun's statues and reliefs after the heresy created by the boy kings predecessor.

In the next chapter we find here the King is depicted as an inspirational warrior hero and protector to his people. The great King Amenophis II is shown on a granite stela found at Karnak riding his chariot while shooting his arrows through a copper ingot. The reader is presented with the tombs of the Kings beginning with the Eighteenth Dynasty King Thutmosis I who created his tomb likely in the Valley of Kings. The reader is also presented the three best surviving mortuary temples of the New Kingdom rulers a mile away along the Nile.

The peoples looked to the King to bring Maat to their world but without the effective governance of the Kings affairs by his officials harmony could easily be lost. Mr. Aldred puts forward a number of line drawings from the various officials tombs with my favorite being King Amenophis II on the lap of his wet nurse Amen-em-ipet. The Egyptian scribe was the fabric that held the monarchy and its bureaucracies together for thousands of years in records trivial and important.

Being a scribe there was plenty of room for advancement as was true of the military where a successful career could take a soldier to the top as in the case of Haremhab the last pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The army was made up of soldiers of many nationalities as in the case of King Akhenaten who's bodyguard contained Asiatic, Lybian and Nubian soldiers. Again I am impressed by the tomb representations of various trade workshops with just about every step represented in a small vignette.

Here the artist raises a pot from a piece of metal or fashions leather sandals, guilds a statue or creates a box through generations of artisans in reserved jobs past from father to son. These artworks for the most part exist as anonymous creations by an unrecognized craftsman with few pieces able to attribute to a specific artist. The technologies such as working and transporting stone and the creation of papyrus paper still present fantastic achievements to us today. The hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts could be written on papyrus to form libraries and archives of governorship of the resources including taxation and distribution.

The late Mr. Aldred ends his book with death and a goodly burial which often ignored the historical lessons that some day you may see someone wearing your dead mothers jewelry. I have to say that I figured it would be a fine read designed for the younger reader and to my delight it was rather lite on King Tutankhamun's treasure. The books concentration was less about Tutankhamun than the times he lived and the laws which governed Tutankhamun's Egypt .

'Well tended are men, the cattle of god. He created heaven and earth according to their desire. He made the breath of life for their nostrils. They are his images that have come forth from his body.'


Jewels of the Pharaohs
Quote pg.  82

Thursday, March 5, 2015

All Color Book of Egyptian Mythology

Richard Patrick
Octopus Books
ISBN: 7064 0128 x

It is not often that one finds a forty year old book meant for those younger readers in as nice a shape as I have found this copy even though yes it also happens to not be my favorite subject along with Cleopatra and King Tut, I could do without them all! The introduction given by Margaret Drower is a good rundown of Egyptian history with of course some minor issues of kingdoms expected from a presentation made more than forty years past.

Chapter one is on the ancient Egyptian creator gods and religion presented by the plates represented on the pages accompanied by relevant descriptions. As I was browsing through noticed a number of artifacts displayed that I have not seen before including the beautifully preserved Sekhmet relief carving from Imen-m-hebra and family in the Cairo Museum. In plate 15 the reader is presented with two pillars at Karnak created for Thutmosis III though here identified as of Nineteenth Dynasty date and just three plates later king Nectanebo II is described as a Twenty Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh. Right off the bat we have two strikes.

In the next chapter the author deals with the main gods within the Egyptian pantheon. In plate 24 the author implies that the tomb of Ramsses II's queen Nefertari is at Abu Simbel when it is actually at Thebes in The Valley of Queens far away from Abu Simbel. Plate 27 is described as a colossal statue of Ramsses II at Karnak when in reality the truth of the beautiful image is better. While it is Ramesses II it is not Karnak but rather the temple of Gerf Hussein which could not be saved from the rising waters of the high dam and now lies deep beneath Lake Nasser.

With an image from the tomb of Sennedgem at Deir el Medina the author describes its owner as a member of the royal household when in reality he was a craftsman who worked on the tomb of Ramesses II. These mistakes are lessened by the fact that so many of the objects and sites presented in the book are obscure and a fine selection. There are many beautiful images from the temple of Seti I at Abydos which presented on the pages with other illustrations really brings home the high quality of King Seti's reliefs.

In chapter three Mr. Patrick puts forward the role of kingship and here the reader is presented with another high quality monument. This time it is the wondrous reliefs in the chapel built at Karnak by theTwelfth Dynasty King Sesostris I. In this historical overview much of the authors concerns are based on Egypt's period of empire particularly the rulers of the later Eighteenth Dynasty, Hatschepsut onward.

The role of kingship is brought to its penultimate point under the Nineteenth Dynasty god-King Ramesses II. This kings extremely long reign dominated his dynasty and sadly the standard of craftsmanship declined. In plate 75 we find the interior of the temples of Abu Simbel baring crude reliefs though in the temples at Abu Simbel there are worse. These artworks bare striking contrast to the reliefs in the temple built by Ramesses father Seti I at Abydos.

The reader is presented with the afterlife described through various fragments of Books of the Dead though a typo lets us know that the book of Anhai is actually the only known copy of the Book of the Dad. In a final chapter I am presented with sacred animals with an unusual image in plate 96 of a faience sow and her piglets. In plate 100 we find a much damaged falcon with four wings in flight from the breast of a Ptolemaic mummy.

The list of plates was first rate in interest and for the most part well explained though there were about a half dozen bumps in the text which cause me concern as a gift especially for a child but for an adult like myself the All Color Book of Egyptian Mythology is worth having for the images alone.


An out of date synonym of stingy appears in the text which may be offensive to some readers

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Walters Art Museum: Egyptian Art

Regine Schulz and Matthais Seidel
The Trustees of The Walters Art Gallery
Baltimore, USA
D Giles Limited
ISBN 978-0-91886-70-2

This book begins with a few thoughts on the museums Egyptian collections benefactor Mr. Henry Walters who's collection makes up the core of the museums holdings in Egyptian art. It is also the first time in more than sixty years that the collection is in publication. This beautiful book is another terrific find from the local thrift and jumping ahead of the rest of my books because it just looks so good I have to read it immediately!

In the introduction Regine Schulz goes into more depth about Mr. Walters collecting habits and contacts in Egypt at the turn of the twentieth century. In those early years was discovered at Karnak a cachette of eight hundred stone statues and some seventeen thousand bronzes. In the right place at the right time the Cairo museum sold Mr. Walters what is now the largest American collection from the Karnak cachette.

The book opens with a rundown of the early dynastic period to the Old Kingdom accompanied by objects within the collection presented in coloured pictures. These images include ivory gaming pieces in the shapes of a lioness and slightly more unusual a dog. In the tomb relief of a dog facing a herdsman we find four blocks with an interesting provenance and though speculation may well have come from Giza tomb G 7948, the tomb of Kha-ef-Ra-ankh.

The Middle Kingdom was a time regarded as a classical age particularly its Twelfth Dynasty which produce some of the finest works of literature and art of any period in her history. In the two four thousand year old wooden figures of Tef-ib pictured on the cover is preserved much of their paint covering well modeled representations of the official, they are purely classical Egyptian. The two figures have come from the cemetery at Asyut or Meir with some probability they came from a stock pile of antiquities acquired by a wealthy Egyptian landowner who conducted undocumented excavations at the Asyut cemetery.

At just over eight inches tall an elephant ivory carving of a standing official is a stunner that has sadly lost its base and any inscription identifying this man who must have been at the apex of the ruling class of his time to afford such a production. A reddish brown quartzite statue represents two officials fully prostrate on the ground on a rectangular base with the front edge giving their names and titles. Though the statue is very well preserved there use to be someone in the middle of the two men who has been thoroughly removed including name and titles at the front. The etched hippopotamus ivory wand contains many images of deities with protective qualities and like most of its kind posses great beauty and are found usually broken as in this case.

The reader is next onto the glories of empire in the New Kingdom. In object 22 is presented a ribbed faience round bowl and cover perhaps from the Tuna el-Gebel cemetery which yielded a similar one. The covered bowl contains black decoration and a modern look to it. A commemorative scarab of Amenhotep III in the Walters recounts the kings marriage to the Lady Tiye, and is the second most common of the five scarabs released during the first eleven years of Amenhotep's reign.

A bronze standing figure of an Amarna king has its charms though the uraeus on the kings forehead appears to be a bit of an obstruction in front of the kings sight line. A relief from the temple of Ramesses II at Abydos retains much of its colour and interesting is displayed in the book in its original location in that temple, though the surrounding blocks in the temple no longer posses the vivid colours as the Walters fragment.

As the days of empire pass into the Third Intermediate and Late periods Egypt struggles to maintain her sovereignty with dynasties of  foreign kings and their satraps ruling from various cities, in particularly around Lower Egypt. Anyone studying ancient Egyptian sculpture will immediately recognize the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh Amasis, and here within this fine collection is a well preserved portrait approximately life size of the king in a reddish quartzite.

Very impressive are the two bronze statues of common design but greater proportions than most of the figures in their quantity. Both the bronzes of Isis with Horus and Osiris hover just below and above the height of two feet and are of fine quality. From the Karnak cachette comes the statue of Iret-horru with Osiris that was sold to Mr. Walters by the Cairo museum in 1911. The graywacke statue is in a near pristine state possessing fine detail and a style from which was among the most popular types in the Late Period.

In number 59 we have the graywacke bust of a radiant unknown queen wearing a Hathor wig. Much about this beautiful lady could be attributed to a date as early as Middle Kingdom but ultimately she bare a face much in kind to the Nectanebo kings of Dynasty Thirty and on into the Ptolemaic Period. The Ptolemaic Dynasty brought a re invigoration in architecture and statuary in a successful program to appease the Egyptian population by adopting the Egyptian gods and restoring old temples and building new ones to them.

A well preserved granite head of Ptolemy II Philadelphos wears a nemes head dress which has a hole in the top of the head believed to be for the attachment of a crown. A hoard of these crowns were found at the delta site of Tukh el-Karamus. The Walters also possess a nice example of The Book of the Fayum being one of the few surviving examples written in hieroglyphics. The richly drawn book contains three registers with the top and bottom devoted to rows of gods. In the center is Lake Fayum representing within the lake manifestations of the crocodile deity Sobek-Re and her associated gods. The bookends with a brief rundown on the Nubian kings and their cultures farther up the Nile including at Meroe.

What a treasure this volume is of a much under published collection with some very important pieces within its galleries of Egyptian art. This document is a must have in anyone's collection of Egyptian books and suitable to readers ten years and up who wish to learn about Egyptian Art in the Walters Art Museum.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Talatat Wall in the Luxor Museum

Recently I found myself viewing this image of the talatat wall of the Gempaaten created by the heretic King Amenhotep IV and erected at Karnak in the first years of his reign. The wall is in the much overlooked Luxor Museum of  Egyptian Art and contains mostly rows of bowing people and workers bringing the produce of the lands to the king though Amenhotep IV is oblivious and preoccupied worshiping the Aten. The question that came to my mind was why the king was represented smaller than the servant to his right on the other side of the divide?

The servant being one in a row which increase in size as they approach the king. While the king on the left is surrounded by two bowing officials shown the correct size in relation to King Amenhotep, however here Amenhotep IV is no longer in an act of praise and he holds no offerings but stands frozen gazing in the direction of the approaching giant. The bowing officials may as well be bowing to the king on the right behind the divider as they may be observing themselves the approaching giant?

Perhaps the scenes are to be viewed as separate entities, though the effect is the same. First I would consider why the king built with much smaller blocks than his predecessors? Does this monument mock Amenhotep IV? Does the monument represent the power of the priests of Amen over the architects, stone masons and the king? That as a foresight thought to build a monument which would be much easier to dismantle after the death of the king,. Is the king being forced to use smaller blocks by the power of the high priest of Amen?

There is no question of authenticity to the wall as the blocks were used as fill in the ninth pylon created by King Horemheb, the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Is the message that the King was lower than the lowest worker? The Luxor Museums 1978 guide book states that the king is always shown larger than everyone else. Yet here there is a giant servant approaching the king from behind.

The author Anneke Bart has a list of high priests and believes the high priest of Amen during the later reign of Amenhotep III and the early reign of Amenhotep IV was Maya, also known as Ptahmose. I cannot help but wonder of the relationship King Amenhotep and Maya had. It may well have been one of despise towards each other with Maya in control of the kings memory at Karnak and in the Theban zone.

The High Priest of Amen Maya may have initiated the policy of using talatat blocks for this monument which was continued throughout the kings reign. Still we are left with which wall the image was on, a wall seen by the king or the one at the back where the king was unlikely to see it too closely? One also has to wonder how much time Amenhotep IV wanted to spend at Karnak to notice such detail?

There is probably no answer remaining just thoughts.


1) Ancient Egypt