Object Biography # 22: A sculptor’s trial piece of Akhenaten(?) drinking

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Fragmentary trial piece of figure drinking from a cup, Manchester Museum

Ancient Egyptian art was governed by a strong sense of decorum – i.e. what was permissible to depict and how it was presented – especially in relation to the Pharaoh. This system changed significantly during the reign of Akhenaten (c. 1352-1336 BC), when new scene-types were introduced. The king, queen and royal family are represented in previously unparalleled moments of intimacy: apparently ‘playing’ with children, holding hands and even kissing. Such acts would be unthinkable for Senwosret III or Tuthmose III, and were perhaps shocking to an ancient audience – although the impact of visual culture, and the composition of the audience, is difficult to model.

Another activity in which the king is usually never shown partaking is eating and drinking. Egyptian kings present offerings to gods; non-royal people sit impassively in front of heaped offering tables. eii-toastDespite the great importance placed on eternal sustenance, the act of eating itself is conspicuous by its absence. Even mouths – of any
human figure – are almost never shown as open.

In a modern Western context, it is often considered undignified for leaders to be seen consuming food. Queen Elizabeth II is often shown toasting a visiting head of state at a banquet – but she is never pictured eating. Elected politicians are more likely to be compromised when photographed eating because they appear vulnerable – and, consequently, foolish.

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British politician Ed Milliband looks undignified when caught eating on camera

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Detail showing cup or chalice, with spindly fingers

The present object is a reconstructed single limestone plaque (31 x 17cm), rather than a section of relief. It may therefore have been a sculptor’s trial piece but may have also had a (secondary?) votive, devotional function at Amarna, where images of the king (and royal family) were key objects of cult. There is no preserved text to identify the figure, who is shown seated and holding a goblet or chalice to his mouth.

The spindly fingers, voluminous kilt and languid (to modern eyes, at least) pose might indicate suggest a depiction of Akhenaten himself – especially as the face of the figure has been deliberately effaced – a fate meted out to images of the king after his death. A close parallel for the pose of the present image occurs in a scene of the royal family ‘feasting’ from the tomb of Huya at Amarna.

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Scene in tomb of Huya at Amarna of royal family ‘feast’, with drinking figures of Queen Tiye (at left) and Akhenaten and Nefertiti (at right)

In fact, these and other scenes do not actually show the royals consuming anything – their mouths are all closed and their faces are impassive – but about to consume the food and drink they hold. The same restraint occurs in a small plaque – perhaps an instructive parallel to the present piece – showing a princess about to eat a cooked duck. What is

princess-duck

Amarna princess about to consume a duck, Cairo Museum

innovative is that food and drink is shown being the king or royal family at all.

One major problem of interpretation, especially with Amarna Period representation, is that we often impose modern parallels on ancient evidence to describe what is going on; like so-called ‘jubilees’ and ‘durbars’, this is not a ‘banquet’ in a modern sense. It targets other concerns that are not likely to be fully understood by a modern audience.

As Margaret Murray wrote in 1949, Akhenaten “appeals by a mixture of religion and sentiment”. In creating the innovative image world of Amarna, artisans had to learn new motifs and scene types. Perhaps this explains the significant number of so-called ‘trial pieces’ and models found at the site of Amarna. The present piece was perhaps one of many experimental stages in refining the royal image – creating innovative poses, such as the king drinking, attested in tombs of officials like Huya.

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“If a crocodile has sex with her…” Lecture by Dr Luigi Prada, 13/1/17

To close our season of events in conjunction with the touring exhibition, ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’:

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If a crocodile has sex with her…”: Animals between magic, religion, and divination in Graeco-Roman Egypt.

Dr Luigi Prada, University of Oxford

2pm, Friday 13th January, Collections Study Centre, Manchester Museum

Book here

Animals played a huge role not only in the practical daily life of the ancient Egyptians, but also in their intellectual and spiritual life, especially in the Graeco-Roman Period.

Whilst we may be familiar with their overall role in Egyptian cults, there are aspects which remain often unknown outside the specialists’ circle–such as, for instance, the fact that sacred animals typically carried personal names (very much like our pets), that archaeological excavations revealed the existence of animal nurseries in Egyptian temples where, for instance, thousands of crocodile eggs were looked after to hatch, and many more such intriguing facts.

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Greaco-Roman tunic from Egypt, with figures of animal divinities

Even more remarkably, animals in Graeco-Roman Egypt were seen as divine agents not only in a cultic milieu, but also in private magical and divination practices. Thus, we know for instance of numerous papyri, many of which are still unpublished, that discuss omens connected with animals. Some are dream interpretation handbooks, and discuss the meaning of dreams in which animals are sighted, explaining what this foretells with regard to the dreamer’s future. Other, even more remarkable texts (such as one known under its ancient title as ‘The Book of the Gecko’) focus instead on animal omens experienced in the waking state, interpreting a myriad of animals’ movements and behaviour as signs of events to befall the human observer.

This talk will introduce the audience into this fascinating and little-known material.

Dr Luigi Prada is Lady Wallis Budge Junior Research Fellow in Egyptology at the University of Oxford, a Theodor Heuss Research Fellow (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg) and a Trustee of the Egypt Exploration Society.

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Halloween Special: So … why Mummies?

Mummy magic at Hallowe’en…

Stories from the Museum Floor

Today’s special edition post is by Becca from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are each sharing our passion and  interest in the museum and its objects … and Becca has a special interest in Halloween! 

And to find out more about ancient Egypt, have a look at the Curator’s blog, Egypt at the Manchester Museum.

Halloween Special: So … why Mummies?

Well what passes for summer is gone and winter is most definitely coming, but before everyone gets the advent calendars out, let’s talk about my favourite time of the year …

Yup you guessed it, Halloween!

We’ve got sweets, themed parties, costumes, and my personal favourite, scary films. Now then, prizes will be given for guessing my favourite movie monster (and if you’ve read my other blog posts you probably know where this is going). If you were sat reading this thinking mummies, then very well done…

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by | October 28, 2016 · 9:06 am

How to make a Coptic sock – II

A reflection on the production of our Coptic sock from experimental researcher Regina De Giovanni. 

In March 2012 I visited the Manchester Museum and was able to spend time with the Child’s Coptic Sock, which as off display at that time. I believed the sock to be knitted and made a knitting pattern and a pair of replica socks based on the ancient original.

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Manchester Museum’s Coptic sock

I had all but forgotten about the project when in May of 2015 I received an email from Dr Giorgios Boudalis who works at The Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessalonica (Greece) who found me through the Manchester Egypt blog. He asked me to make a pair of socks for an exhibition in New York 2017 using the technique used in ‘Coptic Knitting: An Ancient Technique’ by Dorothy K. Burnham Textile History Volume 3, Issue 1 December 1972, 116-124. The technique in the article was also used for bookbinding Coptic Books which is his area of interest.

Inspired by this request I visited the Whitworth Gallery and spent time with Curator Frances Pritchard looking at samples of Coptic Sock broken parts to observe any damage which might give clues to their construction. I brought premade squares made in both Tarim stitch and knitted stocking stitch which I cut roughly to compare the damage. The experiment was inconclusive as the damage on both squares looked similar to the pieces. We noted that the originals were made in fine 3 ply yarn which would rule out the “spin as you go” method which would create the yarn by twisting fleece with the needle as the work progressed.

toes made separately and then joined

Toes made separately

I also searched the Manchester Museum collection of needles and bodkins, while interesting were not suitable for the replication of the Tarim Stitch. I then discovered a demonstration of Tarim Stitch on You Tube which used a flat wooden needle. http://www.neulakintaat.fi/ (Finland). Eventually I sourced a fine wooden needle on Etsy from Belarus. The needle needed to be shortened and flattened before it met the needs of the project.

turning the heel

Turning the heel

Knitting is constructed with two rigid needles and a continuous length of yarn. Tarim stitch is worked with a short flat needle using an “arm’s length” of yarn at a time. Splicing the lengths of yarn together is fiddly and time consuming which makes the overall task slower than knitting.

Having conquered the stitch method of construction many questions are left. Where did the yarn originate from, it looks like wool though there seems little evidence of sheep farming in Egypt? What dyestuffs were used to generate the lovely bright colours? What were the needles made of wood, reeds, thorns or bone? What tool was used to cut the yarn?

complete tarim stitch sock

Complete tarim stitch sock

The project so far has been truly International via the magic of the Internet and thanks to the staff at Manchester Museum and Galleries for being so willing to give experimenters like myself access to their collections.

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Object biography #21: An inscribed base from a statue of Hathor (Acc. no. 3309)

 

A guest blog from University of Exeter researcher Tara Draper-Stumm, who is researching the numerous Sekhmet sculptures of Amenhotep III at Kom el-Hettan. Here we reveal a previously-unidentified fragment from the Museum’s storerooms, likely from the same context. 

This inscribed rectangular granite base with a pair of feet in the striding position, both broken at the ankles, are all that remains of a standing statue of the goddess Hathor (acc. no. 3309), commissioned by Amenhotep III. An inscription in two columns on the base reads:

Son of Ra, Amenhotep, Ruler of Thebes, given life

Beloved of Hathor, Lady of jubilees

The inscription suggests that the statue was commissioned in preparation for the first of Amenhotep III’s three Sed (‘jubilee’) festivals, which took place in his 30th regnal year.

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Acc. no. 3309

The base measures 43 cm in length by 22.5 cm wide, and is 14 cm in height, with a cracked surface. Statue bases associated with the well-known life-size (or larger) standing statues of the goddess Sekhmet are approximately 30%-40% larger than the Manchester statue base, with three columns of inscription. The size of the Manchester piece therefore suggests it comes from a statue that was smaller than lifesize, perhaps 1 metre or so in height.

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Sekhmet statues from Kom el-Hettan in the British Museum

While we know that Amenhotep III commissioned hundreds of statues of himself and the gods in the run-up to his Sed festival, embellishing temples the length of Egypt, the inscription would indicate this statue fragment came from Kom el-Hettan in Luxor, the site of Amenhotep III’s funerary temple, where his Sed festival was likely celebrated.

This statue fragment entered the museum’s collection in 1895-6, the gift of Jesse Haworth, a major supporter of the work of Flinders Petrie and the newly established Egypt Exploration Society. In return for his support, Haworth received a selection of Petrie’s finds. In the 1895-96 season Petrie excavated a group of funerary temples on the west bank at Luxor, his results being swiftly published as Six Temples at Thebes in 1897. Petrie did not excavate at Kom el-Hettan, since “de Morgan [Director of the Antiquities Service] informed me that he reserved the site of the great funerary temple of Amenhotep III for his own work.” However, Petrie was allowed to investigate the ruins of Merneptah’s funerary temple, near Kom el-Hettan. Here Petrie “discovered a large amount of sculpture which had belonged to the temple of Amenhotep III, as that had been plundered for material by Merneptah.”

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Detail of Acc. no. 3309.

Petrie makes no mention of this statue fragment in his report, and no photographs of it survive in the archives of the Petrie Museum, where photographs associated with this excavation are to be found. However, Petrie does mention finding parts of statues of jackals “split up into slices…and laid in the foundations of Merneptah,” along with parts of sphinxes, inscribed blocks and parts of statues of Amenhotep III, among the foundation fill. It seems possible therefore that the Manchester Museum’s statue base could also have been used in Merneptah’s foundations and was found there by Petrie. The condition of the statue base would certainly suggest this. Petrie also made mention of the area being “under the high Nile level”, with evidence buried statuary much “swelled and cracked,” presumably from water damage over time. This description also relates well to the damage to the Manchester statue base.

Such a statue of Hathor may once stood in a shrine inside Amenhotep’s funerary temple, one of many hundreds of statues commissioned for the temple and employed in ceremonies associated with the King’s Sed Festival. It is unclear what happened to the rest of the statue. It may have been broken up and used in the foundations of Merneptah’s temple, like so many other statues from Amenhotep’s funerary temple. Presumably if the body or head had survived in decent condition in association with the statue base Petrie would likely have kept them together. Since this area of Luxor has been dug up repeatedly since at least the early 19th century, including by Drovetti, Salt, and Belzoni, among others, it is also possible that a further fragment of the statue survives in another museum or private collection.

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Hathor cow head. MMA acc. no. 19.2.5

Evidence survives for smaller than life-size divine statues being made in the reign of Amenhotep III. A head of the goddess Hathor as a cow is in the MMA in New York (acc no. 19.2.5). Made from porphyritic diorite, the head is only 28 cm wide at the ears, and the back pillar measures 15 cm wide. While this is probably not the head for our statue base, it could suggest what the statue looked like when completed

While we may never know for certain where this statue base was found, or how it originally looked, it adds to an ever-developing picture of Amenhotep III and the incredible rates of statuary production during his reign.

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Ancient Egypt Glossary #3: Canopic Jars etc.

Canopic Jars in Ancient Egypt

Stories from the Museum Floor

Today’s post is by Becca from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are sharing our passion and interest in the museum and its objects.

For more about Ancient Egypt and Sudan, please visit the Curator’s blog, Egypt at the Manchester Museum.

Canopic jars and the four sons of Horus

So in the last few blog posts I’ve done we covered mummification, coffins, and tombs. However, what we didn’t cover is what goes inside the tombs with your mummy and its coffin.

There are a lot of different funerary items that can be placed into the tomb with your mummy in the hope for a comfortable afterlife, today I will be focusing on some of the most important items you need – canopic jars.

Canopic Jars

Canopic jars contain the mummy’s organs that will be needed in the afterlife. Now not all organs made it into…

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Texts in Translation #16: Senebtifi’s Beaker from Abydos (Acc. No. 3964)

A guest post by Dr Nicky Nielsen, newly-appointed Lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester. Senebtifi’s vessel is one of several objects which are used in the teaching of the University of Manchester Online Egyptology Certificate and Diploma courses

Campbell-vesselIt is often the case in museums that apparently inconspicuous objects can turn out to contain very interesting bits of information. This is the case with this small (height: 12.4cm) flat-based beaker. It can be dated by its shape to between the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period (c. 1700 BC) and is manufactured from a relatively fine Nile silt clay. Small amounts of chopped straw (so-called ‘chaff’) was added to the clay to make the vessel more stable during firing. Holes were punched along its lip prior to firing and allowed the vessel to be hung with strings. Alternatively, they could have been used to tie down and secure a lid. An inked inscription runs in two lines along the vessel’s body:

(1) An offering which the king gives to Osiris, Lord of Abydos, so that he may give bread and beer (2) oxen and fowl, alabaster and [linen], for the ka of the Officer of the Ruler’s Crew, Seneb[///]

The ink used to write this dedication has faded considerably and the last few syllables of the owner’s name are too faint to read. However, a clue to his identity can be found in the original archaeological context of the beaker. It was found by the Lancashire-born Egyptologist John Garstang in 1906 at the site of Abydos, home to the cult of Osiris for much of Pharaonic history. The beaker was found in Tomb 7 A’06 by Garstang along with several other inscribed vessels.

These vessels were in the form of model granaries, which were believed to magically transform into real granaries in the Afterlife, thus ensuring a rich supply of grain for the deceased owner. Three of these model granaries (Manchester Museum 3972, Garstang Museum of Archaeology E. 6846 and Bolton Museum Bol.A.10.20.10) were inscribed with a similar offering formula and all three list their owner as the Officer of the Ruler’s Crew, Senebtifi.

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Transcription of acc. no. 3964 – N. Nielsen

Senebtifi’s title is somewhat mysterious. It was used primarily during the late Middle Kingdom and throughout the Second Intermediate Period. It may have been related to Egypt’s growing military and in particular to the riverine navy built by the Theban rulers of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period and deployed in battle against the Hyksos city of Avaris at the end of the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1550 BC).

The writing style of the inscription is also noteworthy. For the first part of the inscription, the so-called Offering Formula, the scribe has used a more formalised hieroglyphic writing, attempting to form the individual symbols properly. However, in the second part of the inscription, which lists Senebtifi’s name and title, the scribe has reverted to using hieratic, a cursive version of hieroglyphs more commonly used for writing administrative documents. This may suggest that the vessel was purchased (or more precisely, bartered) with the formulaic part of the inscription already written and that the new owner’s name was added in a hurry by a different scribe who was more comfortable writing in hieratic.

Another example of an off-the-shelf object!

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