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Curator’s diary July 2016: Egyptomania at Biddulph Grange

Yesterday several curators from Manchester Museum had the pleasure of visiting  Biddulph Grange, a National Trust property in north Staffordshire. We are particularly interested in exploring the theme of migration – of people, objects and ideas – and in ways of capturing the connections. Biddulph Grange represents a wonderful example of multi-cultural influences in the later Nineteenth Century that stretches across traditionally separate areas of Botany, Geology and Egyptology.

In 1840, the horticulturist James Bateman (1811–1897) moved to the 15 acre estate and with help of friend Edward Cooke, developed splendid gardens. Edward Cooke is known to have visited Egypt himself and to have been acquainted with the famous Scottish painter David Roberts, whose many drawings and watercolour sketches made while he was in Egypt heavily influenced British ideas about the country. Together Bateman and Cooke created several discrete areas in the Biddulph gardens: China, the Himalayas, Egypt and a didactic geology gallery.

biddulph1

Biddulph’s Egyptian court was created between 1859 and 1862. It combines topiary in the form of a pyramid and two squat obelisks with stone features: two pairs of sphinxes, a cavetto corniced doorway leading to a passageway ending in a dimly-lit chamber with (rather creepy) baboon statue. The statuary is the work of sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894). Hawkins created sculptures of dinosaurs in concrete for the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace and was likely to have been inspired by the impressive Egyptian court designed by Owen Jones there. Jones’ designs are, however, more faithful to the ancient originals.

At Biddulph, cultures have been mixed in an eclectic, Orientalising soup – a great example of the migration – and melding – of ideas. Part of the Chinese garden has a gilded bovine statue, provided with a sun disk between its horns – making it resemble the sacred Apis Bull of Egypt rather than a decorative feature found in the Far East.

apis

The Pharaonic gateway has the a winged sundisk – however the usual rearing cobras (uraei) either side of the disk have been re(mis?)interpreted as the heads of birds. Combined with the feathered wings and disk, these seem intended to represent peacocks!

biddulph-wings

Within, sits a statue of a baboon or ‘Ape of Thoth’ – a type of statue we have in the collection. Like our example, the baboon sits with hands on knees; the Biddulph example has stylised fur and pectoral ornament handing from its neck. The face, however, is much more intentionally grotesque than a Pharaonic example and may be the result from borrowing from a Chinese dragon. The overall effect – with red-tinted sky-light above – is reminiscent of the focal point of an animal mummy catacomb. It is intriguing to imagine that a tourist visit to such a catacomb (which were common in the 19th Century)  may have inspired this spooky space.

bidd-ape

To anyone familiar with ancient Egyptian art, the two pairs of sphinxes look rather severe – but they carry all the essential elements: the striped ‘nemes’-headcloth worn by the Pharaoh, a beard attached to the chin by a strap, an unidentified object in place of the expected rearing cobra (uraeus) on the brow, and even an identifiable inscription. Although somewhat weathered, this was clearly an attempt to represent the two main names of the Pharaoh in oval-shaped cartouches: one, the ‘Son of Ra’ name and the ‘King of Upper and Lower Egypt’ name. Perhaps the name of Ramesses III was the model.

biddulph-sphinx

Although Egyptianising (and genuinely ancient) pieces are not uncommon in stately homes of the Nineteenth Century, what is usual at Biddulph is that the use of Egyptian imagery is so consistent and self-contained in one area of the estate. Set amongst other elements, the ‘Egyptomania’ of the Egyptian court is a fine illustration of how exotic ideas and motifs moved and morphed over time and space.

 

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Object biography #20: A baboon of Iuwlot (Acc. no. 1785)

1785

Acc. no. 1785

This imposing (65cm high) black granodiorite statue represents the god Thoth as a baboon (Acc. no. 1785). Damage to the baboon’s muzzle has resulted in a rather forbidding impression, although Thoth was appealed to as a god of wisdom and of healing.

The statue has until now been dated to the New Kingdom, following archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie’s 1894 publication of finds from the site of Coptos, just north of Thebes. Several of the finds unequivocally dated to the reign of Ramesses II and so Petrie assumed the baboon to be of that period as well. However, the reading of the unusual name of the donor of the statue – a High Priest of Amun, named in an inscription within a pectoral carved on the baboon’s chest – has always puzzled me.

Petrie read the name of the donor as ‘Iua-Mer’ but did not publish a photograph of the statue or a copy of the inscription in the excavation report. Perhaps as a result it does not appear in a standard reference work of monuments, the Topographical Bibliography of Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts. Unless someone had visited Manchester, it is unlikely they would know what the statue looked like.

Christies_Baboon

The Christie’s baboon

By chance, whilst perusing a Christie’s sale catalogue for an auction held on Thursday 2 May 2013, I happened upon the perfect doppelganger of our piece: a granodiorite baboon statue, identified as having been dedicated by a 22nd Dynasty high priest of Amun named Iuwlot. The unusual name, combined with a rare combination of hieroglyphic signs in its spelling mean there can be no doubt that this is the same man as dedicated our almost identical statue. Unsurprisingly given its apparent lack of publication, the author(s) of the Christies catalogue entry were unaware of the Manchester baboon.

Iuwlot is an intriguing but little-known character. He was the son of the Libyan king Osorkon I, and held the important title of High Priest of Amun at Thebes. He is attested from five other inscribed objects: two Nilometer Texts (no. 20 and 21), a stela from Thebes (British Museum 1224), a stela in Moscow and finally the so-called Stèle de l’apanage in Cairo.

1785_detail

Detail of the pectoral carved on acc. no. 1785

In the vexed subject of ancient Egyptian chronology, especially of the Third Intermediate Period, all attestations of named and titled individuals count. Two new records can now be added for Iuwlot in the form of the baboons from Coptos – as the Manchester one has a firm provenance, it is likely that they were set up as a pair, perhaps to flank a temple doorway at Coptos. Interestingly, Iuwlot’s son Wasakawasa is known from an electrum pectoral dedicated to Thoth, Lord of Hermopolis (Petrie Museum UC13124), perhaps implying a particular family regard for this god.

These baboons may have been carved much earlier and have been repurposed by the 22nd Dynasty royal family. Other monumental elements, such as granite jambs of Tuthmose III, were reused by Osorkon I at Coptos, and such reuse is widely attested in ancient Egypt.

This is proof, yet again, that even well-visited objects on display can hide secrets in their stories.

Our baboon can be viewed in our award-winning ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ exhibition tour.

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