Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tutankhamun by T.G.H. James

T. G. H. James
Whitestar S.r.l.
ISBN 1-58663-032-6

Here I go into my third coffee table book in a row and worse yet it is on our old glittering friend Tutankhamun. The books pictures are the main highlight of the book being by photographer Aldo De Luca and of course Harry Burton!

The book opens with a series of closeup photo's of King Tutankhamun's shiny stuff including the back of the kings mask. The author explores the historical times Tutankhamun was born into and ruled with the help of his senior ministers.

It is left to this boy of nine or ten years of age to repair the damage inflicted on Egypt and her empire by his predecessor Akhenaten. The viewer is presented with an image from Tutankhamun's throne which shows his Queen Ankhesenamun applying ointment to the king, yet it can clearly be seen in the image that the figure of the queen has been altered from her collar up and of which the shadow of a potential sleeve also appears behind her extended right arm.

The Amarna heresy dominated Tutankhamun's life, reign and memory though the boy king could hardly have played any meaningful part in his ancestors cult or in much of the reconstruction of Egypt after the heresy. The discovery of the tomb brought world fame to its discoverer and the little known boy pharaoh.

There are a number of wonderful old excavation photographs included as well along with the many expected usual photo's by excavation photographer Harry Burton. The search for the tomb between 1917 and 1922 was thorough if not exhaustive with a total of eight months on the ground work in those years.

A classic Harry Burton photograph of the cord and clay sealing used to seal the second shrine is now presented on a full two page spread opening up to reveal a four page drawing of the tomb and its chambers full of the kings belongings. Our author now turns to the tombs contents beginning with the kings four gilded shrines. The largest of which fit so snug into the burial chamber that it could not have been made until after the kings death when the size of the burial chamber was known.

The reader is next presented with the coffins of Tutankhamun including the second coffin which has an intricate inlaid feather design and someone elses face on it. Aldo De Luca's photographs are beautiful with many diverting away from the standard view presented in most other books on this little known subject.

The many wonderful photographs also make this book a fine read for a teen or younger. I particularly like all the pictures of Tutankhamun's alabaster canopic chest, likely an object not originally made for Tutankhamun but usurped for his burial.

Mr.James presents perhaps the most wonderful display of Tutankhamun's shabti's that I have seen in such a publication before. They range in material from wood to stone to faience and in a great variety of wigs, crowns and implements with some even appearing to be female.

The three mysterious gilded couches found in the antechamber contain inscriptions that they were made for the dead Tutankhamun but otherwise are of unknown funerary use. We are next on to the many anthropomorphic deities found in black shrines in the treasury with perhaps one of the most unusual being the black coated figures of a boy carrying a gilded sistrum believed to be Hathor's son Ihy.

In the next section we are dealing with the various amulets found on the mummy and around the tomb. Among which a number of them were cut out of sheet gold, chased and found particularly at the throat of the kings mummy including five gold vultures, two being present here.

Found near the navel of the kings mummy an unusual scarab made of resin inlaid with the design of a benu bird with lapis-lazuli and coloured glass. The tombs life size sentinel figures are beautiful representing the king and his double known as his ka while other statuettes from the tomb inscribed for the king are most certainly representing a woman and not originally made for Tutankhamun.

Containing none of the traditional crowns worn by pharaohs the tomb did contained a small assortment of royal regalia including a number of crooks and flails and at least one scepter. Tutankhamun's jewelry was mostly stolen in ancient times leaving the bulk of remaining jewels within his wrappings with only a few sumptuous jewels overlooked in a few boxes mostly in the treasury.

Among the contents of one of these boxes was a necklace known as the "necklace of the rising sun" with its pectoral of two baboons with moon disks on their heads surrounding the Khepri beetle who pushes the sun before it. The pectoral being one of the finest quality pieces of jewelry in the tomb.

An extensive series of Tutankhamun's jewels from various rooms in the tomb are presented and include many necklaces, pendant, pectorals and four sets of earrings which were found in a box from the treasury shaped as a cartouche containing the kings name. The book displays all four sets including one pair that are rarely seen in publication.

The rarely seen carnelian bird on a gold bangle is so unlike the rest of the kings jewels that it left me wondering if the piece might have been an antique in Tutankhamun's day as it looks much older in style even slightly Archaic. Seven gold plaques found in the tomb are of openwork design and regarded as buckles though they are too fragile to be used as such. Four of these objects are represented here and all have damage to their light construction.

Tutankhamun's gold mummy bands which were wrapped around the outside of the kings mummy are inlaid with glass inscriptions giving the kings names and titles. Three more bands but regarded as trappings of the mummy are heavily decorated in glass and are nothing short of stunning and though the original owners cartouches have been erased it can still be seen that the missing name is "Neferneferuaten".

It is here that we leave the jewelry and move on to the kings personal possessions that of course includes his writing equipment, games and musical instruments one of which possess an inscription naming his grandmother and another his oldest sister. A number of openwork shields are present and too fragile for use left me wondering if they were perhaps meant to be decorations.

Both daggers found on the mummy are present including one with an iron blade made hundreds of years before Egypt entered the Iron Age and the gold dagger which must be one of the worlds most traveled artifacts. The kings traveling canopy left me wondering if the decorative shields might have belonged to it but it is the many calcite vessels that for me may demonstrate a group of artisans particularly attuned to delighting the child pharaoh and his young queen.

With so many books on this subject the reader has the opportunity to appreciate so many noticeable volumes though rarely with such in depth images. I enjoyed this book which remained uncomplicated throughout and would put it on my coffee table for my guests to enjoy but most of all for the kids to look through and to form their own impressions on this ancient Egyptian art created for the child Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Monuments of Civilization: EGYPT

Claudio Barocas
Cassell & Company LTD
Great Britain
First Edition, 2nd Impression
ISBN 0 304 29288 5

The book opens with a forward by Oscar Niemeyer who writes a brief note on the architecture of ancient Egypt including its pyramids and temples. Mr. Niemeyer leaves the reader with among the questions, why do we not build pyramids today?

In the Introduction the reader is introduced to the environment of the Nile and the two distinct lands that makeup Egypt. Around 3100 B.C., the King of Upper Egypt Narmer gained control over Lower Egypt becoming Egypt's first King of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The author delves into the meaning of the pyramids beginning with the Step Pyramid, the constructed workforce and the masons who built it. The author includes a sidebar of ancient texts on some pages along with some interesting photographs of the pyramids.

     "We can safely assume that, with the Third Dynasty, royal power already had a most solid foundation. The more than 40,000 stone vases deposited in the subterranean storehouses are enough to convince us of this; they were filled with the produce from the earth, another indication of the enormous accumulation of goods available at that period."

With the Fourth Dynasty pyramids we find the grand edifices of Egyptian history constructed without decoration by kings who's divinity was without question. The king was surrounded by a highly effective bureaucracy funneling the states resources to his divine use.

With the mortuary temple on the east face of the Giza pyramid of Khafra we find the only well preserved temple of the Old Kingdom created with monolithic granite pillars and architraves weighing many tons and completely unadorned by decoration or inscription. The pages are filled with images of the beautiful tomb of Ti which is likely to be considered the finest of its kind of the Old Kingdom.

The sideline texts include a theological text from Memphis as well as passages from the Pyramid texts and a Decree of a Fifth Dynasty king. The collapse of the Old Kingdom had been partially brought to an end by local nomarchs who could muster local armies challenging the powers of the kings of the Memphite Sixth Dynasty.

The Middle Kingdom kings of the Theban Twelfth Dynasty got around this issue by appointing middle class bureaucrats to various government posts circumventing the ruling class. These kings also set about building dams and canals in a highly effective agricultural reclamation in the Fayum.district. They also began expansionist policies sending military expeditions both to the south and into the Levant in the north.

This had the effect of removing the nomarchs of their private armies in the missions of the state. The surviving temples and monuments of the Middle Kingdom are few with the badly damaged mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II or III as regarded by our author, and the calcite shrine of Sesostris I which was hidden in the third pylon at Karnak being exceptions.

The loss of these Middle Kingdom monuments was heavily due to the Theban kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty that followed a few hundred years later. A period of domination of Lower Egypt by foreign rulers known as Hyksos ended the Middle Kingdom though the kings of Thebes retained control over Upper Egypt.

The last kings of Thebes Seventeenth Dynasty fought and chased the Hyksos out of Egypt reestablishing unified Egypt under King Ahmosis. This founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty was followed by a line of some of Egypt's greatest kings who founded the period of her greatest empire resulting in these kings becoming fabulously wealthy emperors.

Images of the architectural wonders of Thebes now occupy the pages including the Colossi of Memnon. The reader is now introduced to the burial places of these rulers in the Valley of Kings beginning with the mortuary temple of Hatschepsut at Deir el-Bahri and her tomb hidden on the other side of the cliffs in the valley behind.

Regrettably at this point a series of small mistakes appear including image number 44 which is a picture from the tomb of Menna and is described as being of the king yet it is actually the defaced image of Menna hunting in the marshes. Similarly in image 46 we find the funeral procession painted on the wall in the tomb of Ramose is said to be for the king when in reality the funeral is for Ramose.

Mr. Barocas is next onto the absence of sacrifices in Egyptian religion compared to other ancient cultures who conduct this behavior on alters in front of their temples. Here we find the Egyptian kings making offerings to the gods on alters inside the temples of their gods.

     "The fact that in the Egyptian religion the function of sacrifice is replaced by offerings is most important. It suggests that there existed an almost qualitative distance between divinity and the human condition, a gap in which the offerings were little more than a passive link rather than an active and vital agent in the relationship."

 The large coloured pictures which occupy many of the pages make the read uncomplicated though the sideline texts posses a little more of a challenge to textually appreciate. The layout of the great Karnak and Luxor temple complex is rooted in the foundation of Middle Kingdom temples built around by the Eighteenth Dynasty kings Thutmosis I, Hatshepsut, Thutmosis III, and Amenhotep III.

These building projects were not asymmetrical but based upon the needs of the gods according to the reigning king and as blank sheets for the kings deeds to be recorded and his name to be remembered. Again I find picture number 82 mislabeled as being an image from the tomb of Ramesses I when in fact it is from the tomb of Thutmosis III.

The rise of the Nineteenth Dynasty brings with it among others the colossal King Ramesses II who like his father followed the activities of Amenhotep III in adding to both Karnak and Luxor colossal structures that did not interfere with much of the earlier monuments except when the older monument was being expanded. A number of images from the tombs of the great Ramesses Queen Nefertari and his children occupying most of the pages in the remainder of this section.

Mr. Barocas leads the viewer next to the temples outside Thebes created by kings Seti I and his son Ramesses II including their temples at Abydos. Again in images 91-94 we find 3 images from the tomb of Pashedu which depict the deceased owner described as being "the king". The same is true of image 91 which famously depicts Anubis bending over a mummy from a tomb at Deir El-Medina described in the book as the being the king, quite an elevation for the workman Sennedjem!

The author now heads into the Ptolemaic Period and its beautifully preserved temples, the dynasties Alexandrian base and survival of many papyrus documents from the era. In the Appendices the author breaks down the history of archaeology in Egypt from ancient times and tourists to merchants and scholars.

Clearly the editor knew little to nothing of Egyptian art and as a result did a really crappy job on this book, and if I was the author I would have been pissed. Our author on the other hand put forward a unique approach to Egyptian history which kept my interest all the way through.

I have at the top made it clear the edition I have just read hoping that since 1977 the editorial mistakes were corrected. I recommend this read but would not give this edition as a gift especially to a child.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Discovery of Ancient Egypt

Alberto Siliotti
Chartwell Books, Inc.
Edison, New Jersey
White star
ISBN: 0-7858-1360-8

I realize it has been a while since I have last wrestled with a giant book designed to accent the modern invention of the coffee table. The weighty book is heavily illustrated with lovely drawings created by the early visitors to Egypt from ancient times up through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Many ancient Greek and Roman writers visited Egypt but it is without doubt that among these it is Herotodus that most illuminates the ancient Egyptians before him. We are introduced to Egypt through the restrictions of the classical and early travelers who ventured the journey with most finding after the Arab conquest of AD 640 that only Alexandria and Cairo, the pyramids of Giza and the Saqqara necropolis were available to them to explore leaving the rest of the country to dangerous and restricted from Westerners.

A number of wonderful ancient maps and frescoes demonstrate the state of the art used by these various travelers. The reader is next onto the Middle Ages including the contribution of the Crusaders and those who attempted to decipher the long lost meaning of the hieroglyphs with some clever falsities.

With the eighteenth century we find travelers who venture to rediscover the lost civilization beginning with the French Jesuit Claude Sicard who relocated the ancient city of Thebes on his map of 1717. The author delves into the travelers Richard Pococke and Frederik Ludwig Norden who were in Egypt at the same time and traveling the same archaeological sites yet do not appear to have met.

While Mr. Pococke came with a trunk of gifts he presented to local dignitaries on his journey, Mr. Norden came with gun in hand with the result being much better access was obtained by Mr. Pococke. I am loving this book with the many original drawings of the sites which accompanied these past authors publications including one of the colossus of Ramesses II from the Ramesseum intact, a half century before the Napoleonic expedition found it broken in two.

Illustrations from a number of eighteenth century publications including some by artist Louis Francois Cassas display scenes of daily life in Cairo and Alexandria but also mix reality with the archaeological sites such as the pyramids and temples with elements of fantasy to romanticize the vision. From these works comes a beautiful painting of the obelisk of Senwosret I, at that time pictured surrounded by water and a garden.

With the close of the eighteenth century comes the great expedition of Napoleon to seize control of Egypt from the Mamaluke rulers. Along with the army came also the finest scientists and artists from the great learning institutions of France to study the landscape, the flora, fauna, minerals, rocks, people and of course the ancient monuments.

I particularly like the painting of Napoleon on horseback entering the Great Mosque of Cairo which was damaged by French artillery in an uprising in October of 1798. Napoleon's ambitions brought little in the way of success with the exception of the savants who did their jobs well under great duress bringing to France the documents needed to comprise the great volumes of "Description De L'Egypt".

A coloured picture of the temple of Hermopolis is a testament to a monument that has now completely disappeared. Interesting is a painting of the pyramid of Meidum drawn by Vivant Denon who had to draw it using a telescope as he was unable to cross the Bahr Yussuf (canal), to get to it.

The books large pages are dominated by the images of Egypt of two hundred years ago with often very little writing. Rather the viewer is left to enter the scenes loosing oneself in the landscape and meeting the people who occupy that moment. The viewer now encounters the mortuary temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu with its famous Migdol tower. The temple is in beautiful preservation or at least I know that because of how it looks today only here it is still half buried.

The reader is sadly met with images of the temple of Philae still with its paint that was washed off after 1902 with the building of the Aswan Dam. Truly "Description De L' Egypt" is a monumental record of the state of the Egyptian peoples, archaeological and natural sites at the turn of the nineteenth century creating a fitting foundation for the science of Egyptology.

Following the publications that resulted from the Napoleonic expedition many European nations sent Consuls to Egypt to build collections of antiquities including men like Bernardino Drovetti and Jean Jacques Rifaud who left his name on a number of statues that ended up in the Museo Egizio, Turin. It has been a  long time since I found myself emerged in a book that I am enjoying so much that I am finding hard to put down.

The English diplomat Henry Salt became responsible to collect antiquities for the British Museum as part of his duties in Egypt as Consul-General. Salt is probably best known for hiring Giovanni Belzoni for the recovery of a colossal bust of Ramses II from that kings mortuary temple at Thebes for the British Museum.

Belzoni went on to open the pyramid of Khafra at Giza as well as the great temple at Abu Simbel. He also discovered in the Valley of Kings the tombs of Ramses I, Ay and his greatest find the tomb of Seti I. The explorer Frederic Cailliaud went farther afield than most of his contemporaries searching for the lost emerald mines of the Pharaohs and in doing so found and drew various temples including one at an ancient mining town at Gebel Sikeit. Mr Caillaiud also reached Moroe in the Sudan discovering and recording its temples and pyramids at Gebel Barkal.

Little known explorer Girolamo Segato was first to enter the apartments below the Step Pyramid drawing the green faience tiles that decorated the walls therein. The Franco-Tuscan expedition headed by the man who deciphered the hieroglyphs Champollion was a complete success with the unfortunate stain on the expedition for damaging the tomb of Seti I by removing two walls now in Paris and Florence.

A wonderful watercolour of the second cataract painted at the end of 1828 by Nestor L'Hote is a rarely seen view of the Nile in any age. The man known as the founder of Egyptology in Great Britain John Gardner Wilkinson spent twelve years in Egypt producing numerous notes, drawings, a superb map of Thebes and was also responsible for numbering the tombs in the Valley of Kings.

The reader is reminded again that many of the drawings and paintings presented are of monuments and scenes that has since been destroyed and no longer exist. These include a drawing from the Lepsius expedition which records the ruins of the famed labyrinth of Amenemhet III now completely gone.

A Dynasty XIX temple is pictured from the site of Gerf Hussein the temple unfortunately could not be saved from the rise of lake Nassar and now lies deep beneath. Many of the artists who visited Egypt depicted the various people who occupied the country in their style of dress, occupations and festivals.

In Emile Prisse D'Avennes we again find a talented draftsman but in this character we find the reliefs from the hall of the forefathers stolen by him in the middle of the night eighteen days before the Lepsius expedition arrived to collect them. A number of lesser known artists also left contributions particularly architect Pascal Coste in his interest in the streets of Cairo and the Arabic architecture.

Traveler Luigi Mayer drew a couple of the Nilometers including a famous image of one in which the waters flowed into a granite sarcophagus known as the 'lovers fountain'. Robert Hay shared a tomb as a home with John Gardner Wilkinson while he explored and documented among other things the tombs in the Valley of Queens.

Famed explorer Frederick Catherwood known for his drawings of Mayan ruins in Central America also visited Egypt making many wonderful drawing including at least one of the now sunken temple of Gerf Hussein. All the drawings created by these past visitors to Egypt from for their own publications made for a clear connection for the reader to the past travelers immersed in those historic landscapes.

Yes there were a lot of images of Abu Simbel but much more important are those images of what has been lost and stolen. Without a doubt Alberto Siliotti has created a document here of earnest importance and a must read for everyone young and old interested in "The Discovery of Ancient Egypt".

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Egyptian Art

Fitzwilliam Museum Handbooks
Eleni Vassilika
Cambridge University Press
Fitzwilliam Museum 1995
University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0 521 47518 x paperback

      "Like most Egyptian art collections, much of the ancient material in the Fitzwilliam was assembled by purchase, bequest or gift, the main criteria being aesthetic and art historical merit. This distinguishes the Fitzwilliam from those museums where archaeology and social history have been the prime considerations."

The book opens with a glossary of the usual Egyptian deities leading straight into the documents first object of a middle Naqada II Period pot, 4000-3000 BC. The pottery vessel is in the shape of a hedgehog with a charming tilted face presented in a lovely full page colour photo with the objects information on its facing page.

The reader is presented with a group of objects found in the Hierakonpolis temple deposit in 1898. The objects having been buried in ancient times as the temple was renovated with many of the objects already a thousand years old at that time. Another group of simple elegant stone vessels from the early dynastic period exemplifies the development of the art to Dynasty II.

A cheery countenance emerges from the pages in the bust of a wooden statuette of a man from early Dynasty XII but it is the remains of a lady in wood from the same period on the following page that radiates luminosity and possible royal status. Of her statuette all that the termites did not eat was her beautiful face, with inlaid eyes and one breast.

The coffin of the soldier Userhat is a Middle Kingdom anthropomorphic coffin found laying on its side inside a rectangular coffin. The coffin is a classic example of the new anthropomorphic form of box with a simple vertical inscription on its lid mentioning the soldier.

From Hatschepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri the book provides a limestone fragment of decoration of Hatschepsut's mother Queen Ahmose which in ancient times was altered perhaps according to fashion? The limestone seated statuette of Kerem and Abykhy is one of those great couple statuettes which almost always bare great charm.

A small bronze head of an Egyptian king wearing the blue crown is a rare survivor in the medium. The king represented is thought to be Amenhotep III, and though there are probably more representations of this New Kingdom ruler than almost any other there are few examples of any ruler in bronze from this period.

The well known limestone relief block of the heretic king Akhenaten in jubilee robes is represented here beneath the rays of the Aten in the presence of bowing officials.* We are presented among the many gifts given by the late notable R. G. Gayer-Anderson is a shelly limestone head of one of the heretic kings daughters which the head may have belonged to one of the kings city boundary stelae at Akhetaten.

A shawabti from the intact tomb of Sennedjem found late in the nineteenth century at Deir el Medina presents the viewer with an object from the lovely and at times harmonious burial furniture of a craftsmen who worked in the Valley of Kings during the early XIX Dynasty. A small series of sketches on shards of pottery and flakes of limestone reveal the art of the sketch free of the conventions strictly upheld in more formalized works.

Perhaps the Fitzwilliams most famous Egyptian piece is the sarcophagus lid of the great Dynasty XX King Rameses III from Egypt's Valley of Kings now presented standing upright. This major fragment of the lid was separated from its box in the Louvre early in the nineteenth century.

The Dynasty XXII cartonnage coffin of Nekhtefmut is another splendid example of this style of anthropomorphic envelope made with linen soaked with resin, covered in plaster and elaborately painted. Nekhtefmut is however not present as his mummy was removed after its discovery below the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Ramses II.

A lovely selection of Late Period bronzes meet the viewers eyes with pieces of exceptional quality though it is within the sweetness and quality that a charming little steatite figure of a votive statuette with the image of the god Ptah stands out.

     "The worshipper is shown proffering a shrine with the image of the god Ptah in high relief. The man rests his hands and chin on the top of the shrine. He wears a bag wig, an introduction of the Late Period, and he is shown with very large hooded eyes, fleshy cheeks and finely modeled nose and mouth."

A small Ptolemaic Period naked woman made of Egyptian blue possess great dignity within her nakedness. This viewer feels her smooth, tactile surface and cannot help admire the little figures modelling. From the late Ptolemaic Period the reader is presented with a wood statue of the goddess Tawret. The goddess associated with Hathor was a protector of  pregnant women and children.

The Fitzwilliam possesses one of the rare Roman Period mummies known as "red mummies" of which the British Museums is likely the most famous. Here we have a mummy painted red with gold figures and a head containing a fine portrait of a man. Gone are the days of the sophisticated envelopes produced in Dynasty XXII as represented by the coffin of Nekhtefmut on this books cover. By Roman times the envelope is replaced by a rather crude bundle of unsophisticated workmanship inset with the better portrait than those idealized envelopes from a thousand years earlier.

So much of the material presented here was deserving of many volumes such as the temple deposit of Hieronkonpolis but for me it is with the pottery hedgehog vessel with twisted head that bares stature with any of the more schooled objects that I find myself in front of a work of art demonstrative for arts sake. The Fitzwilliam is one of the worlds great art institutions who's collection of Egyptian art could only be grazed by such a booklet.

The selected works refine the viewers eye to objects and representations which are classic to each period in the vast expanse of time that encompasses these standards. The guide creates an effective representative development of important works from the Fitzwilliam of ancient "Egyptian Art".


The Fitzwilliam Museum

* The Jubilee Scene in the Fitzwilliam