Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

James Wasserman
Chronical Books
San Francisco, CA
ISBN 978-0-8118-6489-3

This large Chronicle book is the complete papyrus of Ani in the collection of the British Museum with a preface by Carol A. R. Andrews and an introduction by Dr. Ogden Goelet. The translations of the papyrus are by Dr. Raymond Faulkner and while it is true the book is large it is also thankfully a carryable book complete including all 37 pages Sir Wallace Budge cut the original papyrus into dismembering the text in a desire for aesthetics.

I have long seen the beauty in the well-known images but to have the complete document is more than about pretty pictures. Ani's book of the dead's wonderful images are not accompanied by equally impressive texts, the painter is finer than the scribe. The book's foreword and introduction were very useful in putting the papyrus into context.

Ani's Book of the dead opens with an introductory Hymn to the sun god Re including an image of Ani and his wife in adoration in front of a table of offerings. This is followed with a similar vignette of Ani and his wife only, this time, the hymn is to Osiris.

Perhaps my favorite image of Ani's Book of the Dead is the field of offerings though there are so many wonderful vignettes. Dr. Faulkner's translations of the papyrus are excellent as in example chapter 77 for being transformed into a falcon of gold begins:

     " I have appeared as a great falcon, having come forth from the egg; I have flown up and alighted as a falcon of four cubits along its back, who's wings are of green stone of Upper Egypt; I have gone up from the coffer into the Night bark, I have brought my heart from the eastern mountains, I have alighted in the Day-bark, there are brought to me those of ancient times bowing down, and they give me worship when I appear, having been reassembled as a fair falcon of gold upon the pointed stone."

The papyrus of Ani ends and is followed by a four-page map key to the papyrus. In the next section, we are on to the chapters in the Theban recension not found in the papyrus. This section is definitely not for the average reader as informative as it is it also at times difficult to read as the spells become more and more abstract.

In the final section, we are on to a commentary by Dr. Ogden Goelet of  New York University who lays down the developments in religious texts leading up to the creation of the book of the dead as well as it's development up to the Roman period.

The concepts of gods and magic are dealt with excellent clarity with their being a strong division between what in our modern world is termed religion dealing with the minds view of monotheism and what we perceive to be ancient Egypt's polytheistic values. In the final commentary by Dr. Goelet, he explains the vignettes in Ani's Book of the Dead beautifully.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead is certainly not for kids though it would still be an interesting pictorial addition till the day they delve into the incredibly complex composition that is also probably not textually enjoyable to readers of any age unless the desire of the reader is to take on a challenging read in the study of this historically important document.

I began reading Ani's book of the dead in the middle of May and found something deep and so here I am relieved 7 months later to have read this incredible document certainly this book is an enhancement to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Images of the Destroyed Library

These are truly sad photographs from National Geographic of the destruction of the Institute de Egypte and the loss of it's library including rare and ancient books.

Photo: Amr Nabil

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Egyptian Treasures: From the Collections of the Brooklyn Museum

Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
New York
ISBN 0-8109-2170-7

How I dislike oversized books this one though half a bookshelf long is not thick and it's size is exploited beautifully with full page photographs by Seth Joel.  Many beautiful objects in Brooklyn's collection of Egyptian art are represented though about half are trinkets only inches in size.

The book opens with a short introduction by Michael Botwinick then director of the museum with the commentaries of the chosen objects provided by Robert S. Bianchi. The book is about 29 objects from the collection starting with an attractive small gneiss statuette of a god from the 3rd Dynasty. I have some serious issues with number 2 in the book like 18 of the 29 pieces in the book are reportedly from or have no provenance at all.

The shawabti of the scribe Amenemhet is from tomb no. 82 in the Theban necropolis and still possesses much of its paint. Whatever I think of the selection of pieces the photographs are stunning. The figure of the spoonbill found at the palace of Amenhotep III at Malkata is an extremely rare example of Egyptian art and new to me though not a beautiful object.

The just over 3-inch nude ivory figure of a lady reportedly from the tomb of Tutankhamun is present among the pieces though unfortunately its base is omitted in the picture. The tiny gold scarab inscribed with the name Mutnedjem wife of King Horemheb is a work of great beauty at less than an inch long and without provenance.

The cartonnage of the priest Nespaneterenpera is a lovely example of mummy cases that enveloped upper-class mummies of the 21rst and 22nd dynasties, in this case, most probably from Thebes. Just over 6 inches tall the bronze of the god of the Ba of Pe is crafted in the austere elegance of the 26th Dynasty and one of my favorites in the book.

As we approach the end of the book we come to the small schist head of Wesir-wer where we find one of the most interesting of the choices for the book. The mixed media head of the god Osiris dated to the Ptolemaic period is full of life in its wonderful decay.

The silver and gilded wood ibis with rock crystal eyes is probably the finest example of it's kind that I know of. The Brooklyn Museum also has one of the finest collections of faience and a number of fine examples are represented in the book.

The book is a short read of a couple of hours and suitable for persons of all ages to enjoy a small treasury of gems from one of America's great Egyptian collections at the same time a fine tribute to the Brooklyn museums Egyptian collections great patron Charles Edwin Wilbour who made it all possible.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Worlds of Forgeries

The painting of the lady above was once believed to be by Goya but when studied further it was found to be not by the artist but rather an 18th century portrait of a woman that was painted over with materials not available till after Goya's death. Restorers of the painting decided the painting should be left in it's current state with both portraits showing.

Many factors play a part on the art and antiquities marketplace including fakes and forgeries. In articles I have published on occasion I have referred to a museums piece as a forgery or fake it is never a personal thing but an inevitability of collecting, seeing whats not there and what should not be.

As a collector of art myself every once in a while I unfortunately add a fake to my collections and hopefully discover which are which before to much embarrassment. Inevitably the object which looked so hopeful in the store/gallery comes home and is placed in a place of pride to be admired by myself and my guests but what happens on occasion is that it is not until I walk by it a number of times that my original thrill begins to wear and those things which are not right begin to stand out and gnaw at me and my original judgment of the piece.

 No museum/gallery or personal collector can escape this fact of the life in any open collection.

In recent years the Bolton museum in the U.K. bought a forged statuette of an Amarna princess for more than L400 000 while the J. Paul Getty museum spent millions on a fake kouros. Where there is money to be made there will always be someone there to make it though even more insidious is those scholars who create fakes to make others look bad including Piltdown man.

The late Thomas Hoving on forgeries.

True when one finds out there piece is a forgery you better believe it's dead and how fast can I get rid of it.  This is one thing in a work of art but much harder to ferreted out when it is a document posing as historical. In the Salamander letter Joseph Smith the founder of Mormonism has a seer stone in which he sees the golden bible but when he goes to dig it up a Salamander appears and will not let Joseph take the bible until he shows up with his brother Alvin who unfortunately is dead and buried. There is a rumor that Joseph Smith and his family dug up Alvin to use his remains in a ceremony. The letter along with many other anti-Mormon documents were created by a forger in an attempt to discredit Joseph Smith and the Church of Later Day Saints and he earned big money on a number of his many creations of which some may still be out there perverting history. Excellent show from the Detroit Institute of Arts on fakes and forgeries I recommend all six episodes:
I have also come across the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology on forgeries in their Egyptian collection. I also found this site on fake Egyptian antiquities. Of note must be the auction prices for the real work and the fake pieces. Here is a fine list of antiquities auctions from recent years including prices realized. This site has excellent overview of forgeries.

Tomb of Seti I

I loved this animation of the tomb of Seti I

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Egypt's Military Rulers Must End Human Rights Abuses

Please take action to show your support to the Egyptian people and for the correct decisions by the military rulers of Egypt for the better of the people to transition to an Egyptian democracy.