Friday, September 27, 2013

News from New York's Egyptological Seminar

     The Egyptological Seminar of New York held its first meeting of the new academic year today and there was plenty of news that will interest any of you who are in the New York area.

     First, there will be a special exhibit on Egyptian obelisks at the Metropolitan Museum starting in December 2013. This exhibit is being tied to the restoration and preservation of the Central Park obelisk which is about to get underway.

     Secondly, there will be a special exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum  in early 2015 dedicated to Middle Kingdom Egypt.

     Also, Dr. Kei Yamamoto gave an interesting talk on Middle Kingdom stelae. Of special interest were his thoughts on the small mud brick chapels at Abydos and the sets of stelae that they held. He also showed a surprising Middle Kingdom stele with a carving of a small girl sitting on the lap of her nurse. I have not seen a depiction of such a private and charming moment like this in Egyptian art other than in the Amarna period.

     The next meetings of the Seminar will take place at the Metropolitan Museum on October 25 (the topic will be Theodore Davis) and on November 22 (Excavations at Malkata).

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Obelisk at the Spanish Stairs

Figure 1 - Obelisk at the Spanish Stairs
The Spanish Stairs, one of the most famous tourist spots in Rome, leads the way up a hill to the Church called Trinita die Monti. At the top of the stairs, and in front of the church, is an ancient Roman copy of the obelisk erected by Ramesses II that now stands in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. This obelisk is, however, smaller than the original. It was erected in its current spot by Pope Pius VI in 1789.

Figure 2 - The Base of the Obelisk at the Spanish Stairs
It was interesting (to me anyway) to find out that the Romans copied Egyptian obelisks. I guess it was to hard to bring the originals to Rome (although they managed to do a little bit of that too...).

Photos Copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Vatican Obelisk

St. Peter's Basilica showing the location of the obelisk
     While in Rome last month, we of course visited the Vatican. We decided to do the Vatican Museum before going into the Basilica itself to see Michelangelo's "Pieta".

     I had three things on my list of must sees at the Vatican Museum, the Raphael paintings, the Sistine Chapel and the Egyptian collection. The museum was so crowded that I never found the Egyptian art! We could barely move during the visit because of the crowds. So I have now made two visits to the Vatican (about 40 years apart), and still have not seen the Egyptian art housed there.
The Vatican Obelisk

     Then we went over to St. Peter's Basilica. I managed to get some photos of the obelisk in front of the basilica before the heavens opened up and let down a torrential downpour.

     The obelisk itself is rather unusual in that it has no inscriptions. It was raised in Alexandria at the order of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Later, it was transported to Rome by Caligula. During the Medieval Period, the metal ball near the top of the obelisk was thought to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. A careful examination of the contents of the ball only found dust.

Photos Copyright (c) 2013 by John Freed

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dates for Egypt's First Dynasty Refined

Scholars have done a computerized research project involving carbon 14 dating to refine the dates for  the Kings and Queen who ruled Egypt during the First Dynasty. You can find an article about their research here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Still More Looting in Egypt

Sadly, another museum has been looted in Egypt. The Malawi Museum was looted a couple of weeks ago. Many objects were damaged and many others were stolen. The link below has some photos of the damage. This nonsense is truly sad.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Venice and Egypt

Figure 1 - Obelisk on the roof of a building in St. Mark's Square, Venice
     While in Venice I found two connections with Egypt in Italy's most unusual city. Both are in St. Mark's Square. The first (Figure 1 - taken from the third floor of the Ducal Palace) is an obelisk on the roof of a building on the other side of the square form the Ducal Palace. The obelisk is certainly not from Egypt, it is only a small copy of an Egyptian original. I have no idea why there are obelisks on the roof of this building (it looks like there are four, one in each corner), but if anyone does know, please drop me a note.

     The second connection is the Basilica of St. Mark itself. St. Mark was originally buried in a church in Alexandria in the Nile Delta. Members of the church feared that the Moslems would pillage the church. Two Venetians who were trading in Alexandria came up with a plan to "protect" the body of the martyred saint. They took the body out of its sarcophagus and put it in a basket. A layer of pork was then added on top of the body so that Moslem officials would not search the basket.

Figure 2 - St. Mark's body being smuggled out of Egypt
     After the body of the saint was loaded on board a ship and transported to Venice. Over time devotion to the saint increased to the point where building a Basilica for St. Mark was required. This Basilica is today one of the two most visited landmarks in Venice. Over the doors of the church are mosaics, one of which shows the basket containing the body of St. Mark being smuggled out of Alexandria (Figure 2).