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 museum's Egyptian collections benefactor Mr. Henry Walters who's collection makes up the core of the museum's 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 colored 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 it's Twelfth Dynasty which produces 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 stockpile of antiquities acquired by a wealthy Egyptian landowner who conducted undocumented excavations at the Asyut cemetery.

At just over eight inches tall this 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 possesses 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 king's 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 king's 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 color and interesting is displayed in the book in its original location in that temple, though the surrounding blocks in the temple no longer possess the vivid colors 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 nearly 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 the Middle Kingdom but ultimately she bares a face much in kind to the Nectanebo kings of Dynasty Thirty and on into the Ptolemaic Period. The Ptolemaic Dynasty brought a reinvigoration 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 headdress which has a hole in the top of the head believed to be for the attachment of a crown. A hoard of these crowns was 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 book ends 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 for readers ten years and up who wish to learn about Egyptian Art at 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 is 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 about the relationship King Amenhotep and Maya had. It may well have been one of despise towards each other with Maya in control of the king's 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 king's 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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Egypt Uncovered

Vivian Davies & Renee Friedman
Stewart, Talbot & Chang
New York
ISBN: 1-55670-818-1

This attractive book was written to accompany a television program composed with the help of Egyptologists and Archaeologists in the field. The authors present their story from the beginning of known history with man's mastering of the ability to make pottery and stone objects.

The element of kingship historically begins with Menes even though archaeological finds show that earthly kings ruled before Menes with at least one buried at Abydos. The text is accompanied by fine original colored pictures of the modern Egyptian landscape and its archaeological sites.

The reader is now on to the lost capital city of Memphis which moved as the ancient Nile snaked its way to the Mediterranean. Our authors deal with the early construction of the 'Dam of the pagans' at Helwan. This early stone and rubble dam was destroyed by a flood after much of the work was completed.

The authors present the emergence into the Old Kingdom and the age of the 'Resurrection Machine'. The rise of pyramid building occurred quickly that once Djoser's step pyramid had been built at Saqqara less than a century would pass till the building of the King Khufu's great pyramid at Giza.

When building the largest known pyramids on earth a substantial workforce is required. The discovery of the workers town south of the 'Wall of the Crow' in 1988 by Dr. Mark Lehner has led to an understanding of a workforce not made up of slaves but rather Egyptians well taken care of. As the age of pyramids falls into decline the kings burials become more and more modest in construction made up of rubble fill encased in limestone with the invention of religious texts carved into the walls of the burial chambers to lead these kings into heaven.

It is an impressive set of images of pyramids and excavations at the sites occupying the storyline. The book flows well and can be read in a few days at a relaxed pace being suitable to readers ages ten to one hundred. Next, the book is on to the battle with the Hyksos rulers of the Second Intermediate Period and the location of their capital at Avaris in the Nile delta.

The expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt's delta by the Theban King Ahmose brings on a policy of imperial domination of its neighbors by the following kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty creating the largest empire in Egyptian history. The authors place much emphasis on the role played by the peoples in the area of the Sudan south of Egypt's borders.

The enormous wealth acquired by the state as booty or tribute from these expansionist policies and the violated burials of the pyramid kings brought on the secret burial in 'The Valley of Kings'. Again the deposit of wealth betrayed these emperors as it had to the pyramid kings and five centuries later the great kings of the golden age were devoid of their wealth and being deposited under humble circumstances.

I am next onto the gods both good and evil with the magnificent temples created for a few favorites including the temple of Amun. Empire had been good to Amun with his vast temples construction paid for by these emperors of the Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties. Social issues such as birth, myth, magic and the ancestors are covered.

A solitary book of dreams and thousands of copies of the book of the dead only touch the mystic contents of the live and dead populations, particularly among the literate and upper classes. The growth of animal cults became  a means for most classes in society to be heard by the gods they made offerings to including falcons and ibises.

The book ends with a post-mortem on radiography and the art of mummification which was likely occurring as early as 3500 BC. Particularly fascinating is the image of the hand of the Eleventh Dynasty mummy Queen Ashait, the wife of Mentuhotep II. The advent of technology has left the Egyptian mummy as a perfect test subject that today are used to the benefit of the modern population.

With excellent images Egypt Uncovered is backed up by serious technology that causes this book to transcend into many people's interests, creating broad appeal. 
Suggested Reading:

 Conversations with Mummies