Thursday, February 28, 2013

Abu Simbel

William MacQuitty
G.P. Putnam's Sons
New York
Library of Congress Catalog Number 65-19561

The book opens with a nice forward by Dr. I. E. S. Edwards who explains the character of the great King Ramses II and his monument to himself at Abu Simbel as well as the rescue of the temple from the rise of the water from the building of the high dam in the 1960's.

This nice size book is easy to handle and read plus it is filled with many large pictures often occupying whole pages. The author puts forward his knowledge of Egyptian history well but it is pretty standard material though mixed with some really nice images clearly the pictures are a great enhancement to the text.

On page 45 we find a photo of a young man sitting on the edge of a stone sarcophagus one of four pictured and is described by the author "Stone coffins recovered from the cache of royal mummies found in the tomb of Queen Inhapi at Deir-el-Bahri. Perhaps Ramses lay in one of these before being moved to Cairo Museum in 1886."

I can think of four things that are wrong with those two sentences, stone coffins were not recovered in the royal cache which contained the mummy of Ramses II, the tomb is that of Pinudgem II, the Cairo museum did not exist in 1881 or 1886, the mummies were removed to the Bouloq Museum in 1881.

Page 67 brings a beautiful color picture of a simple Moslem grave complete with inscribed stela and offerings. There is a wonderful black and white picture of a street scene from a town in the Wadi Halfa, the town now under lake Nassar. On page 72 Ramses IV is described as being Ramses II's grandson this causes a problem since Ramses III's father was Setnakht, not Ramses II.

Such a letdown to see all these excellent images accompanied by text that is shaky at this point and yet still another rare image, this time, it is an unfinished rock carving of the Viceroy of Nubia, Yuny near the Abu Simbel temples. The pictures inside the temple include the wall of the temple's holy of holies next to the broken remains of the God Ptah show decoration which is crude and rarely seen.

No one will claim the decoration of the temple is of high quality, much of it is anything but with some exceptions while Nefertary's temple interiors are even cruder with much of that temple's interior incomplete. The author discusses the imagery of the decoration with the standard smiting scene and statues of the family.

In chapter four Mr. MacQuitty deals with the coming flood which will engulf the temples as the high dam at Aswan is built and accompanied by an amazing set of pictures of the construction of the dam. Various countries put forward ideas to save the temples including surrounding the temples in concrete boxes and using hundreds of jacks to raise them.

The book ends with a look at Ramses tomb in the valley of kings as well as Nefertary's crumbling tomb in the queens valley. The books Appendices is on the various schemes to save the temples and an explanation of the cartouches of Ramses II.

The text contained a number of flaws as mentioned above and became confusing with the statement that Nefertary was a daughter of Ramses who married her father before the beginning of his reign, that's news to me and not good news. This saddened me as the read was short and simply perfect for a teenager with an awesome set of pictures that should have belonged to better text.

The flaws in the text were more than outmatched by the excellent images and though there were mistakes they were not enough to remove from my collection these priceless images of an amazing project to better the future of the Egyptian agricultural system, people and the archaeological site forever changed at Abu Simbel.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sunken Egypt: Alexandria

Franck Goddio, Andre Bernand
Periplus Publishing London Ltd.
ISBN: 1-902699-51-3

This handsome volume is large but not unruly, the size rather is an enhancement to the many beautiful colored pictures within. The book opens with an introduction to Mr. Franck Goddio and his background including the preparations made in order to do the job put before him.

We find the history of archaeological work which predates M. Goddio in the harbor of Alexandria and are presented with a number of maps created of it from the 18th and 19th century including a current map. The author introduces members of the team, their specialties and technologies including how they work, unfortunately.

The technical detail appears in minutia throughout the text, detail that I would have expected in the scholarly publication but not in a mainstream book. If you are a scuba diving scientist who enjoys archaeology this book may be for you.

This maybe a little presumptuous on my part as sadly I am only half way through the book. Truly the pictures are wonderful but the read has been very dry so far and probably unsuitable for a young person or an old person.

The second half of the book is "The Portus Magnus of Alexandria", gone is the technical jargon replaced by a look at the finds accompanied by text descriptions in ancient times of the site. The maps are helpful in envisioning the layout of the ancient harbor while the pictures are a ghostly assemblage of objects testifying to the sites lost importance.

I loved the Ptolemaic family tree on two full pages from Lagos and Arsinoe to Caesarion, a murderous bunch indeed. The archaeological sites within the Portus Magnus are individually examined beginning with the island of Antirhodos.

Exceptional finds certainly include any inscriptions which are thankfully presented and interpreted for the reader. I particularly found interesting the story of Caracalla and the telling of the slaughter of the Alexandrian's by that Emperor's forces.

The author deals with among the most beautiful artifacts found the statue of a priest of Isis found laying near two sphinx's. We are told about the Portus Magnus coastline in ancient times and are introduced to two remarkable animal statues which include a very unusual coiled snake.

A number of other sculptured stones and columns are identified and fitted into the ancient landscape of the Ptolemies including many reused blocks from ancient Heliopolis. Particularly of interest are the inscriptions gathered from the harbor floor and a colossal head.

The author talks about the buildings which historic writers mentioned as part of the ancient harbor complex, these include the Timonium, Poseidium, and numerous ports. The book ends with a chapter on the Pharos, Alexandria's famous lighthouse, the chapter is a good read on this one of the ancient seven wonders of the world.

The conclusion is an impressive array of accomplishments by Franck Goddio and his team which will no doubt be discussed by archaeologists long into the future.

I knew from the beginning of the book that it would not be for a child and this was confirmed by part one which due to my lack of interest in the minutia of technical information, I was unable to appreciate. Part two was an entirely different and enjoyable read with important historical documentation presented.

This book will be a treasured addition to my collection filled with the best information on the harbor and its monuments, a volume I will definitely never read back to front again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Avenue of Sphinx's

So here we are presented with the completion of part of the avenue of sphinx's at Luxor. A complicated tale to resurrect an ancient processional way between Karnak temple and Luxor temple. The project may be one of the best examples of the power of the former regime to bully the Egyptian people to this extravagant and unnecessary end.

Photo: Luxor Times

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Reconstruction of Amenhotep III

Two 14 m colossal sandstone statues of King Amenhotep III discovered in that kings mortuary temple in 1933 have been uncovered and packed to be shipped to a dryer climate to be reconstructed and consolidated with the intent of returning them back to the mortuary temple.

The kings mortuary temple was in good condition only for a little more than a century after it was built in the first half of the fourteenth century BC. The Nineteenth dynasty King Merenptah used many of the blocks from Amenhotep's temple in his own construction in the closing years of the thirteenth century BC.

The two statues in question were destroyed in a massive well recorded earthquake in 27 BC where they collapsed and broke to pieces.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Eternal Egypt

Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from the British Museum
Edna R. Russmann
American Federation of Arts
ISBN: 1-885444-19-2

The book is an accompaniment to the British Museum's traveling exhibition of North America from March 2001- May 15, 2005. I saw the exhibition in Victoria, British Columbia on its last day Halloween 2004.

Curator Edna R. Russmann opens the book with an excellent overview of Egyptian art embedded with many large colorful and black and white images of Egyptian art from many museums including the wonderful painted limestone Fifth dynasty statue of Ny-Ka-Re and his family from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Miss Russmann is onto aspects of Egyptian art including portraiture, painting and the effects of archaism onto the subjects of those mediums with Boston's green head being a perfect example.

The following chapter is by the late great T.G.H. James who writes about the formation and growth of the British museum's Egyptian collection. The collection began in the eighteenth century but it is with the acquisition of the Rosette stone surrendered from the French in the treaty of Alexandria after the British defeat of Napoleon that the museum acquires its monumental piece.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, British Consul-general in Egypt Henry Salt and his remarkable agent Giovanni Belzoni helped the museum acquire a large number of its important sculpture and artifacts of all sorts. Mr. James chapter is accompanied by a number of etchings with my favorite being of the great hall at Boughton house where the museum's collection was kept during the early years of world war II.

The catalogue opens with (EA 37996), a statuette of a king carved in the round in ivory and dating to 3000 BC. The statuette was found by the great Flinders Petrie at the temple of Osiris at Abydos early in the last century. The three photo's in the catalogue cannot do justice that only standing in front of this little masterpiece can  it be fully appreciated as an exquisite piece of craftsmanship.

Nearby a small calcite statue of a woman (EA  24619), of the Old Kingdom is in a beautiful state of preservation though unfortunately possessing no provenance. The wooden statue of the seal bearer Tjetji (EA 29549), is impressive in its presence being rather large in comparison to the smaller statue of the same format found in the tomb of Meryrahashref (EA 55722), one of two of a number of sculptures found at the bottom of the shaft in Meryrahashref's tomb and in the exhibition.

Of the statue famed twentieth-century sculptor, Henry Moore said "What I admire about this statue is its tension. If you run your hands down the legs or across the shoulder blades you can feel the tautness and hardness of the muscles. The Egyptian sculptor has squeezed tense physical energy into the whole piece."

Passing rooms I find myself in front of the painted head of the Eleventh dynasty Theban King Mentuhotep II (EA 720), which  may be the ugliest thing ever created! Well, that might be harsh but I kept having the thought that it reminded me of a cheap plaster bust of Elvis, God rest his soul!

I walked right past the relief of Mentuhotep II being embraced by Montu (EA 1397), without noticing, it was not until I reached the end of the exhibition that I realized this and went back to find it figuring the reason I had missed it was because of how impressed I was by the nearby relief of a battle scene from Mentuhotep's mortuary temple. (EA 732).

A remarkable bust of Sesostris I in granodiorite with feldspar inclusions (EA 44), found by Richard W. H. Vyse at Karnak during his excavations between 1835-1837 is a singular example of the kings many sculptures created during his long reign. The block statue and niche stela of Sahathor (EA 560-570), I found to be fascinating in its style and condition but particularly in the painted decoration still surviving inside the niche.
From Arthribis comes a late Twelfth dynasty statue of a standing cloaked man in black granite (EA 1237), though sadly the statue is missing its feet and base which may have given his name. I spent much time standing in front of this most wonderful little statue, he pulled me in, certainly one of my favorite pieces in the exhibition.

The standing statue of King Sesostris III (EA 686), from the temple of Mentuhotep II at Deir el-Bahri is one of six found at the base of a platform from which they were pushed off in antiquity. The strength of the carving  is enhanced by the elegant nature of the stone from which the statues were carved together the power of the king is obvious, the kings thoughtful face balances perfectly to produce a figure of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Above the audience sat the colossal granite head of Amenemhet III (EA 1063), found at the entrance of the temple of Bastet at Bubastis missing its eye inlays the head has a ghostly quality to it. A series of trinkets, jewels, and statues pass by till I reached the small graywacke head of Thutmosis III (EA 986), wearing the white crown. The lovely head of the great ruler made me uncomfortable as it was displayed at the place where the head would have sat on its missing body which had me looking down at it.
Perhaps I should have been more impressed by the statue of Senenmut holding Princess Neferure (EA 174),  except that near was a very impressive display of the block statues of Inebny (EA 1131), Sennefer (EA 48) and Tety (EA 888), placed in a row from largest to smallest, I could sense the natural boulders from which they were carved as if they could have been carved by the Nile herself.

Soon I found myself in front of an eighteenth dynasty black granite head of a queen or goddess (EA 956), and completely fell in love, one of two ladies I fell in love with in the exhibition. The Eighteenth dynasty reign of Amenhotep III was an epoch of Egyptian art and the red granite lion (EA 2), from the temple of Soleb but found at Gebel Barkal is one such example.

The colossal quartzite head of the King Amenhotep III (EA 7), is most famous for the etching which depicts it being excavated from the kings mortuary temple early in the nineteenth century but on that day at the end of October it looked over the gallery above the crowd. The sweet little Eighteenth dynasty limestone statuette of Khaemwaset and Nebettawy (EA 51101), possess great charm as these little family statuettes usually do.

The fragmentary face of the heretic King Akhenaten (EA 13366), carved in indurated limestone and being only a little over six inches in height is a technical marvel that the stone could have been carved at all in the unstable crumbling rock. Even with so much damage, the viewer can still make out one of the great masterpieces of historical sculpture and for me, if I could have one piece from the exhibition it would be this head.

It is at this point that I knocked over my glass of water ruining my catalogue, sigh, the show must go on.!

On the next wet page, I find the famous painted limestone stela of Amenhotep III and Tiye (EA 57399), found a Tell el Amarna, a very lovely object indeed of fine quality. A series of scribal equipment and ostracon pass until I found myself in front of two wooden demons (EA 50703-50704), discovered in the tomb of King Horemheb in the Valley of Kings tomb KV57.

The demons are larger than I had imagined them to be and would certainly have inspired fear to an intruder in the king's tomb upon catching a glimpse of them in a flickering torch light.

The beautiful little glass Bolti-fish shaped scent bottle (EA 55193), found at Tell el-Amarna is hard to ignore for its technical mastery of its unusual medium. The show was not without humour being represented by a satirical papyrus (EA 10016/1), and a remarkable piece of faience (EA 48014), of animals engaged in human activities.

I guess for me the real shocker of the show was the partially gilded silver statuette of Amun (EA 60006), which from all pictures I have seen as a worthy figure to be worshiped.

Not true it looked cheap and wonky possessing no dignity, on the feathered headdress and solar disc the gilding has simply been slapped on and not burnished down to remove the wrinkles. A disappointment indeed! A number of gold elements follow including an earring of Queen Tawosret (EA 54459), found in Valley of Kings tomb KV56, probably the burial of a child of the queen.

Again the viewer is presented with more wooden statuettes of nobles (EA 2320, EA32772), this time of the New Kingdom for these are not the naked figures of the Old Kingdom or the lightly dressed occupants of the Middle Kingdom, the Egyptian noble is now dressed in all their finest pleated garments with large wigs.

At this point, a most beautiful Nineteenth dynasty lady (EA 37887), in black basalt came to my attention holding her sistrum which possessed no metal discs used to create the sound and left me wondering if the sculptor was implying the noble lady was mute? Either way, she was magnetic and I revisited her a number of times falling head over heals in love with her.

The delicate stela of Dier el-Medina Foreman on the right of the tomb Neferhotep (EA 1516), has King Amenhotep I and his wife Queen Ahmes Nofretari carved in raised relief while Neferhotep is in sunk relief. The king and queen were worshiped in Neferhotep's community of Deir el- Medina thus they are represented in a finer style than the foreman.

 A number of sumptuous papyrus pages of books of the dead*, including pages from the most famous of these books belonging to Ani are an impressive sight that ooze reverence and command presence. It was unmistakable as I entered the next gallery the notice that the people in the room formed a whirlpool in one corner of this room admiring a Roman period portrait panel of a beautiful woman (EA 65346).

The nearly foot long limestone shabti of King Ahmose (EA 32191), is the earliest known royal shabti and impressive at that but I was left asking why limestone I would have expected granite. wood, metal or even faience but not limestone?

A couple of red granite carvings from the temple of Bastet and dating to the reign of Osorkon II included a column capital (EA 1107), lovely but it is the block from the Sed festival gate (EA 1105), that really inspired me. Late period bronze statuettes* fill the space between the red granite blocks from the temple of Bastet at Bubastis to the gold bracelets of Prince Nimlot, (EA 14594-95), that were so small, so grand.
Wow the tomb stela of Psusennes (EA 642), from Abydos what an incredible and disrespectful attempt at placation of a god. The stela displays Psusennes making an offering of Maat to Osiris, Horus, and Isis though because Maat was a prerogative of royalty someone has removed the goddess and replaced her with an Isis knot. Worse yet Psusennes has been carved so that he is actually blocking Osiris a sacrilegious mistake for a mortal to block a god.

The scribal statue of Pas-Shuper (EA 1514), in brown quartzite of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, comes to us from a two-thousand-year-old tradition of scribal statues beginning in Egypt's Fourth dynasty. The tradition here has resulted in an object with a presence of age and sophistication of line while the scribe still being compassionate and approachable.

In the striding figure of Tjayasetimu (EA 1682), from Egypt's late period we find a figure just over four feet tall and beautifully preserved so much so that as much as I admired it I could not help but question its authenticity. The limestone statue with traces of paint has no find spot and was bought for the museum in 1921.

The architectural slab of Nectanebo I (EA 22), found at Alexandria is a lovely fragment of a wall once erected at Heliopolis and what a dividing wall it must have been. The precision cutting of the rock is remarkable combined with the stones colour has produced an effect of opulence suitable for the home of the sun god.
Having said this I found myself drawn to the crude Greek inscription hacked into the destroyed cornice of cobra's on the more damaged side. I was later informed by Elizabeth R. O'Connell from the British Museum that the inscription was from a later reuse in the Roman period.

A greywacke head of a king, possibly Nectanebo I (EA 97), was a lovely object with an ancient repair to its nose that does not interfere with the kings obvious quality. Finally, for me a limestone relief of Ptolemy I making an offering to Hathor (EA 649), was the last beautiful artifact of the show.
What a wonderful day I had at the Eternal Egypt exhibition, before myself 145 works presented an evolution of ancient Egyptian art which very few museums could produce. The choices resulted in clear depictions in tastes and styles of 3000 years of art history. The development of which resulted in the adaptations of historical styles to produce contemporary images to meet the prerogatives of the ancient Egyptian people and the era's in which they lived and died along the Nile.

Pictures: The British Museum
Mask of Satdehuty EA 29770
* Books of the Dead: EA 9900/32, EA 10471/2, EA 10470/5, EA 10470/3, EA 10470/35, EA 10554/61, EA 10479/6
* Bronze Statuettes: EA 32747, EA 54388,
Show: Royal British Columbia Museum