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.

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