Met Showcases Predynastic Art Of Egypt

Predynastic Art, Egypt, MetThe Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has one of the best collections of ancient Egyptian art in the world. Now it has opened a special exhibition focusing on the lesser-known art from the early days of Egypt before the pharaohs.

The Dawn of Egyptian Art” brings together art from the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods (ca. 4000–2650 B.C.), a time when Egypt was developing into a society with towns, specialized labor and, eventually, a centralized government. This broad swath of time included several distinct local cultures that slowly became the ancient Egypt that we are familiar with.

The main culture was the Naqada culture. Villages each had their own animal deities, many of which survived as gods and goddesses of dynastic Egypt. The dead were buried with works of art such as jewelry and figurines of these deities. As agriculture became more important in the fertile Nile valley, villages grew into towns and art flourished. Local rulers became more powerful and expanded their territories until Egypt was two kingdoms: Upper and Lower Egypt.

The 175 objects from the Met’s collection, and those of a dozen other institutions, put Predynastic Art into its historical and cultural context as well as display them as objects of beauty. For example, this female figure, shown here in a photo courtesy the Brooklyn Museum, was made about 3500-3400 B.C. and is typical of the highly abstracted figures made throughout most of the Predynastic Period. It’s unclear what this figure symbolized, although many Egyptologists think these figures are goddesses, since similar figures painted onto pots are always larger than the male “priests” shown next to them.

Some art is easier to identify, like ships and hunting scenes painted onto pottery or on tomb walls. There are also statues of gods and goddesses, many of which can be identified as the major deities of the age of the pharaohs. A masterpiece of early Egyptian art is the Narmer Palette, seen in the gallery, which commemorates the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt in the 31st century B.C.

For more information, check out this excellent page on Predynastic Art and check out the gallery below.

“The Dawn of Egyptian Art” runs until August 5.

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Ancient Egypt–Art and Magic, opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida

Ancient EgyptAncient Egypt never ceases to fascinate. Its elaborate religion, art, and ritual make it at once foreign and compelling. Now a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, showcases some of the highlights of this unique culture.

Ancient Egypt–Art and Magic: Treasures of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art brings to the public eye one of the greatest private collections of Ancient Egyptian art. These 100 choice pieces from the collection of Jean Claude Gandur of Geneva, Switzerland, include mummy cases, statues of pharaohs, papyrus texts, and precious jewels.

Each item emphasizes the skill of the ancient Egyptian artisans and their culture’s deep connection to magic. Alongside the works of art are explanations of how magic played a part in every aspect of Egyptian society, and how these particular objects fit into that belief.

Some of the items have an interesting modern history too. One sarcophagus was owned by the late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

It’s rare for so many items from a private collection to go on display all together, so if you’re passing through Florida, be sure to make it to this exhibition. The exhibition runs until April 29, 2012.

This photo shows the lid from a sarcophagus, made of gessoed and painted wood from either the 21st or 22nd dynasty (1080-720 BC), from the Collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art.

Ancient faces: the Fayum mummy portraits of Egypt

Fayum mummy portraitsThe pyramids, Tutankhamen’s gold, the massive temples of Luxor and Karnak. . .the civilization of ancient Egypt has left us an incredible legacy, yet of all of these impressive monuments and treasures none has a more personal effect on the viewer than the Fayum mummy portraits.

During the Graeco-Roman period, after Egypt had fallen first to Alexander the Great and then to the Romans, the old traditions continued. Temples were still built, priests still wrote in hieroglyphics, and the wealthy were still mummified in order to guarantee their place in the afterlife.

The new rulers of Egypt took on some local customs. They often chose to be mummified in the Egyptian fashion, but added the touch of putting a portrait of the deceased over the wrappings covering the face. Painted on thin slats of wood, they were part of a trend called panel painting, considered by Classical writers to be one of the highest forms of art.

Panel paintings were hung in houses and public buildings all over the Greek and Roman world. Two thousand years of damp, mold, and fire destroyed all of them except those buried in the preserving sands of Egypt, so these mummy portraits give us a look at what would otherwise be a lost art. Panel painting was hugely popular in its day and later influenced the Coptic and Byzantine icons of the Middle Ages.

Looking at a mummy portrait brings you face to face with a real person from the past, like this image of a priest courtesy user Eloquence via Wikimedia Commons. Painted around 140-160 AD, it’s realistic enough that we’d know him if he passed us on the street. The portraits vary in quality, but each gives us an individualistic look at a man or woman or child, often with fascinating details like jewelry or hairstyles.

%Gallery-126247%Mummy portraits appeared around the first century BC and continued in fashion for about 300 years. Many were found in the Fayum, an oasis west of modern Cairo that was a popular place to be buried, but examples have been found all over Egypt.

The Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid has a display of 13 of the best mummy portraits showing until July 24. Most of the museum has been closed for more than two years for refurbishment so it’s nice that something is going on there. There’s also the exhibit Tesoros del Museo Arqueológico Nacional, a “greatest hits” collection like the British Museum did while it was remodeling.

If you aren’t going to Madrid this summer (don’t–the autumn or spring are better with fewer tourists and milder weather) there are plenty of other places to see mummy portraits. In London, The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and the British Museum have two of the largest collections in the world, although many of the best examples from the British Museum are in Madrid at the moment. In New York there’s the Met, in Edinburgh the National Museum of Scotland, in Paris the Louvre, in Vienna the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and in Amsterdam the Allard Pierson Museum. And of course there’s the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo!

Ancient art stolen from Egyptian Museum recovered by police

ancient art, EgyptEgyptian police have recovered four stolen statues, two of which were taken from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, Ahram Online reported.

Two of the statues were among several items that went missing when rioters broke into the Egyptian Museum. The other two were apparently looted from somewhere else, perhaps an archaeological site. There were scattered incidents of looting from several museums and archaeological sites across the country during the January Revolution, and the extent of the thefts remains unclear.

The statues are all of bronze and depict important gods such as Osiris, god of the afterlife, pictured here in an image courtesy of user Rama via Wikimedia Commons. This is not one of the recovered statues.

The statues date to the Late Period, a period dating from 664 BC to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. This era saw a final flowering of Egyptian art and religion before it went through a long period of domination and decline under Greeks and Roman rule. When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, poor old gods like Osiris were slowly forgotten.

The thieves possessing the ancient art were arrested. Of the 54 objects missing from the museum, 23 have been recovered.

Rioters destroy two mummies in Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Egypt, egypt, mummy
Rioters broke into Cairo’s famous Egyptian Museum yesterday and destroyed two mummies, Reuters reports.

The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, got on state television to say that a crowd tried to break into the museum but were fought off by tourist police and regular citizens. While the battle went in front of the entrances, some other rioters broke in through the roof and destroyed the mummies. The ticket office was also ransacked.

It’s unclear at this stage if anything was stolen or if this was a simple act of vandalism. Egyptian fundamentalists have long objected to displays of mummies and ancient religious idols, so the attack may have had a religious motivation. The two mummies were not identified but were referred to as belonging to the Pharaonic period, as opposed to later Greco-Roman mummies.

The museum stands next to the headquarters of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party, which the rioters had set on fire. If I remember correctly, there’s a large open space between the two buildings and so there is little danger of the fire spreading.

[Photo courtesy user Zubro via Wikimedia Commons. This is in the Louvre and is not one of the mummies that was destroyed. You get 100 Archaeology Points if you can tell me another reason this couldn’t be the mummy that was destroyed.]