Monday, October 29, 2012

Dynasty 21 Papyrus in Vienna

Khonsu-mes, Dynasty 21
     The Art History Museum in Vienna has a very nice papyrus dating to the Twenty-first Dynasty. It is a funerary papyrus belonging to Khonsu-mes, who held a number of titles (including "Overseer of the Goldsmith's Shop" and "Overseer of Construction Works") in the temple of Amun at Karnak.

     The papyrus, which contains illustrations from the "Book of what is in the Underworld" was painted by an excellent artist. It is also an example of a trend in funerary papyri in which illustrations dominate the papyrus and there are only a limited number of captions. This is different from earlier funerary papyri that had a large amount of text and a few illustrations.

     The object in front of Khonsu-mes is an animal skin hanging from a pole. An example of this object was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter, but egyptologists are not certain what the significance of the object is.

     Other examples of this type of papyri are known from the same period, including one for Amenhotep, Overseer of Scribes in Karnak. This papyrus is in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, as is a slightly earlier one belonging to Amunemwia (also in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Slipper Coffins

Figure 1 - Slipper Coffin of
an 18th Dynasty woman
     Slipper coffins are among the oddest looking things ever used in ancient Egyptian burials. They are called slipper coffins because they are made of one piece and the body of the deceased was slid into them. Then a cover, often with a very stylized face on it, was placed over the top to close the coffin.

     This particular coffin (see figure 2) shows what appears to be hair on each side of the face and very odd "crossed arms" below. It is rather hard to say what the two "lumps" above the crossed hands are supposed to represent. The coffin was found by George Steindorff during excavations at Aniba in 1930 and it probably dates to the Eighteenth Dynasty. It is currently on display in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Figure 2 - close up of the slipper coffin in the
Kunsthistorisches Museum
Some slipper coffins have marks on the inside of the heads that show that the heads were turned on a potter's wheel. Some also show traces of paint.

These coffins appeared outside of Egypt first, and were later used in Egypt for non-wealthy burials. Slipper coffins are found in the levant and Mesopotamia and are still in use there during the Parthian Period.

Here are some links to other information about slipper coffins:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

University of Pennsylvania Museum

Figure 1 - Gilded Bulls Head from a Harp
     The University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia has a great collection of ancient Near Eastern Art. Their collections of Egyptian and Mesopotamian art are extensive and well worth visiting.

     The museum has set up a conservation project for some of the Egyptian mummies and coffins in their collection. The conservators can be seen as they work by visitors to the museum and they will answer questions from the visitors at certain times of the day. Here is a link to an article on the project.
Figure 2 - The "Ram in the Thicket" from Ur

     The museum has a long history of conducting scientific research on mummies. They have examined mummies to determine what the person ate and what diseases or parasites they may have suffered from.

     The University Museum also has a superb collection of Mesopotamian artifacts from the excavations at Ur. Three of its most famous artifacts are pictured here.

     Figure 1 is the gilded head of a bull with a lapis lazuli beard on the front of a large harp. Figure 2 is the "Ram in a Thicket" made of thin sheets of gold and Lapis Lazuli. This object had been virtually crushed by the weight of the dirt heaped up on it thousands of years ago and had to be painstakingly restored. Figure 3 is a scene from the "Standard of Ur".

Figure 3 - The "Standard of Ur"
     Ur was excavated by a joint expedition of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania and the collection of objects from the excavations are split between London and Philadelphia.

     If you can get to Philadelphia, do visit this museum as it is well worth the visit.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Troy to be Excavated Again

A team of archaeologists is preparing to excavate at what is believed to be the site of Troy in Turkey starting next year. Archaeological investigations have taken place at this site numerous times since Heinrich Schliemann first worked here in 1871. Conclusive proof that this is the place where the war immortalized in Homer's tale "The Illiad" has never been found.

Here is a link to a short article on the planned excavations.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The New Kingdom in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Fig. 1- Ushabti of Amenhotep III
     The Art History Museum in Vienna has a number of objects from Egypt's New Kingdom. There are ushabti's of Akhenaten and his father, Amenhotep III (see figure 1), a lion hunt scarab from the reign of Amenhotep III and a number of statuettes of non-royal officials. But my two favorite pieces are a fragment of a statue of Tuthmose III (figure 2) and a large statue of Horemhab and the god Horus (see figure 3).

Fig. 2 - Statue of Tuthmose III
     The statue of Tuthmose III reminds me very much of a statue of the same king that is in the Luxor Museum. The king's features are youthful and energetic looking. The Luxor statue was found at Karnak (near pylon 7), but the find spot of the statue in Vienna does not seem to be known for certain. Tuthmose has long been my favorite Egyptian Pharaoh. This is no doubt Professor Breasted's fault as I loved his re-telling of Thutmose's military campaigns based on the professor's translation of the "Battle Annals" carved on a wall at Karnak (see Professor Breasted's book A History of Egypt).

Fig. 3 - Statue od Horemheb and Horus
     The statue of Horemheb is also a favorite of mine. Alabaster is a relatively soft stone and can be worked to show incredible detail, as is done here. The king is shown with a rather interesting crown, essentially the double crown is shown being worn on top of a Nemes headdress. Horus is shown wearing the double crown only. As a king, Horemheb is an important transitional ruler as he bridges the end of Dynasty 18 and the start of Dynasty 19. He was a commoner, who became a top military commander and later came to the throne after the death of the Pharaoh Aye. Horemheb seems to have designated another general, named Ramesses as his successor and this general, as Ramesses I, becomes the first king of the Nineteenth Dynasty.

Photographs copyright 2012 by John Freed

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Continued)

Figure 1 - Painted Ceiling in the museum
     The Egyptian collection of the museum is housed in the North wing of the museum. You go up the stairs and past the Sekhment statues and enter the first gallery, which has a ceiling painted to look like the ceiling of of an ancient temple, with a row of representations of the vulture goddess Mut spreading her wings over the visitors.

Figure 2 - Copy of Middle Kingdom tomb paintings
     The far wall, is decorated with a copy of the paintings in a Middle Kingdom tomb at Beni Hasan. This is the famous tomb of Khnumhotep, that shows a group of foreigners coming to Egypt to trade, with the foreigners being clearly labeled as "Hyksos". The Hyksos traders are shown between the large figure of the Egyptian Nomarch Khnumhotep (on the far right) and the column which blocks part of the view of the paintings). The original tomb dates to a period prior to the Hyksos "conquest" of Egypt and I have long argued that this shows the "Hyksos" entered Egypt peacefully and stayed in increasingly large numbers until they were able to establish a separate kingdom in the Nile Delta during the Second Internediate Period.

Photos Copyright 2012 by John Freed

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Art History Museum in Vienna

Figure 1 - Entrance to the Egyptian Collection
     After leaving Paris, we next headed to Vienna for our first visit there ever. We absolutely fell in love with the city!

     Aside from wonderful sights like the Hofburg and Schoenbunn Palace (palaces used by the Austrian Emperors) there are a great number of cultural events to enjoy. Sadly the opera house was closed for the summer, but we did enjoy listening to some Mozart and Strauss in the Hofburg.

     On our next to last day in Vienna I went to the Kunsthistorische Museum (the Art History Museum), which is in a beautiful building near the opera house and the National Assembly. The interior of the building is worth a visit all by itself. When you enter you are facing a spectacular staircase that leads up to the second floor. On the right is a shorter stairway that leads to the Egyptian collection at the top of which is a door flanked by two statues of Sekhmet (see figure 1).

Figure 2 - a painting by Gustav Klimt in the Museum.
     If you ignore the Egyptian collection for a minute and head up the main stairs to the second floor (see Figure 3) you will find yourself facing another stairway up into the very "rafters" of the building where you can find a number of "Egyptianizing" paintings done by Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 - February 6, 1918). Klimt executed paintings in a number of buildings in Vienna and was awarded the "Golden Order of Merit" by Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph for his paintings in Vienna's BurgTheater.

Figure 3 - Main Stairs to the Second Floor
     The painting here (figure 2) shows an Egyptian Queen standing in front of the goddess Nekhbet (the vulture goddess who was the goddess of royal women in ancient Egypt).  

Photos Copyright 2012 by John Freed

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sargon II

Figure 1 - Sargon II - Louvre Museum
Sargon II came to the Assyrian throne in 721 B. C., probably after staging a coup against his brother, Shalmaneser V. Sargon conquered Samaria (the capital of Israel) and established relations with the Phyrigian King Midas. Midas, however, later instigated a revolt by Carchemish against Sargon, a revolt that Sargon quickly put down. The Assyrian King would later campaign against the kingdom of Urartu, an empire about which little is known.

When Sargon was not campaigning, he was busy building his new capital at Khorsabad. The gates of the city and the royal palace were guarded by winged bulls (or "Lamassu") a picture of which can be seen in my previous post. The walls of the palace were decorated with huge stone slabs carved in high reliefs, showing scenes of feasting, military campaigning and punishing rebels.

The representation of Sargon shown here is fairly typical of Assyrian royal representations. The king is shown with the long, elaborately curled hair and beard that other Assyrian kings are shown with. He also wears earrings, a bracelet and a conical "crown".

Reference: Collins, Paul. Assyrian Palace Sculptures, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008).

Photo copyright 2012 by John Freed


Figure 1 - Winged Bull from Khorsabad - Louvre Museum
Khorsabad was the capital of Assyria during the reign of Sargon II (722 - 705 B. C.). Sargon had a new capital city built for himself at Khorsabad. The ruins of his capital were first excavated by Paul-Emile Botta in 1842 - 1844. Later Victor Place worked there from 1852 - 1855. Between 1928 and 1935, archaeologists from Chicago's Oriental Institute also excavated at the site. Finally, in 1957 the Iraqi Department of Antiquities excavated at Khorsabad.

Building Khorsabad required a massive effort on the part of the Assyrians, an effort which ended with Sargon's premature death in combat and the movement of the capital to Nineveh by Sargon's son Sennacherib.

Figure 2 - Bringing Cedar Wood from Lebanon
Figure one shows a winged bull that was found by Botta and brought to the Louvre. These winged bulls, sometimes referred to as "lamassu", were protective deities with the body of a lion or a bull, the wings of an eagle and the head of a man. These huge statues were set up in doorways, no doubt as a way of impressing visitors to the King's palace. If you look carefully at one of them, you will notice that they have five legs, not four. You can see four legs in the picture here. The fifth leg is to the right of the front leg and can only be seen when looking at the statue head on. With five legs the viewer would, no matter where they were standing, see the illusion of the Lamassu having four legs. Lamassu were also used in the construction of gateways by the Babylonians and the Persians (see the Lamassu built into the "Gate of all Nations" at Persepolis).

Figure 3 - Hero with a Lion
Figure 2 comes from a wall in the King's palace showing the building of Khorsabad. In this picture you can see wooden logs being moved via water to Khorsabad (from what is now Lebanon), for use in the construction of the city.  The city of Byblos was especially famous for exporting cedar wood and many references to trade between Byblos and Egypt involving this wood are known

Finally, in figure 3 we see a common motif in Mesopotamian sculpture, a human hero with a conquered lion. Sarah Costello wrote a paper on what she calls the "Nude Hero" in 2010 and this figure may be a representation of the "nude hero" (although he is shown fully clothed in this carving). It is also possible that this representation of the hero is associated with the famous story of Gilgamesh.

Photos copyright 2012 by John Freed

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Apadana of Persepolis

Column Capital from Persepolis - Louvre
By the time I finished the Egyptian collection and the European paintings (my family's idea) at the Louvre, I had almost no time to visit the Near Eastern Art collection. I rushed through it very quickly and came away with some truly awful photos. I have "photoshopped" a few of them (using iPhoto) and will show them over the next few posts.

Relief from Persepolis - Metropolitan Museum
The first one is a double bull's head column capital taken from the Apadana at Persepolis (in what is now Iran). The Apadana was the great audience hall built at Persepolis by Darius I and Xerxes I. Apadana is an Old Persion word that means "Hypostyle Hall" (a hypostyle hall is an area in a palace or temple built with a large number of oversized columns). The columns were about twenty meters tall and it was among these towering pillars that the Persian King would have received tribute from the "Satraps" who governed his empire.

The Apadana was built on a huge terrace and was accessed by climbing one of two large stairways, which were decorated with reliefs showing various people from the King's empire. The relief shown above is in the Metropolitan Museum and may come from the stairway of the Apadana. The inscriptions that accompany these reliefs are in Old Persian and Elamite.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Serapeum Re-Opened to the Public

When I wrote the past couple of posts, I did not realize that the Serapeum at Sakkara was about to be re-opened to the public. Check out the link below for some pictures, including a couple that will show how large the Apis Bull sarcophagi are.