Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MFA Preview: Prince Ankhhaf

Over the next two Wednesdays, our cluster will be visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There students will see one of the best Egyptian collections outside of Egypt, a huge Greek and Roman collection, and some of the oldest artifacts of human civilization. Each day, I'll be posting a preview of selected artifacts that I would like students to notice when we're at the MFA.

If you want to preview even more, the MFA website has a tremendous online gallery, interactive tours, and a very detailed catalog of their immense collection. I highly recommend you take a look...

The first is one of the most important artifacts in all of Egyptian art history. It is a statue of Prince Ankhhaf, who was the brother of one pharaoh and the son of another. He helped to build the great pyramid at Giza around 2500 B.C.E.


What the Museum won't tell you is that the Egyptian government would love to get its hands on this statue to bring it back to Cairo. The problem for them is that it was legally excavated by Harvard and the MFA about 100 years ago. Now the Egyptian government says it would like to "borrow" it. Yeah right!



Here's what the Museum does say about this artifact:

Bust of Prince Ankhhaf
 
Egyptian, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Khafra (Chephre, 2520–2494 B.C.
 
Findspot: Giza, Egypt
     Height: 50.48 cm (19 7/8 in.)
     Painted limestone
 
Classification: Sculpture
 
On view in the: Gardiner Martin Lane Gallery (Egyptian Old Kingdom Gallery)

In ancient Egypt, artists almost never created true portraits. This bust of Ankhhaf, therefore, breaks the rule. It is made of limestone covered with a thin layer of plaster, into which details have been modeled by the hand of a master. Rather than a stylized representation, the face is of an individual. From inscriptions in his tomb, we know that Ankhhaf was the son of a king, probably Sneferu, brother of another, Khufu, and that he served Khafre as vizier and overseer of works. In this last capacity, he may have overseen the building of the second pyramid and carving of the sphinx.



Ankhhaf's features are those of a mature man. His skull shows a receding hairline. His eyelids droop slightly over eyes originally painted white with brown pupils. Puffy pouches are rendered underneath. Diagonal furrows set off a stern mouth. Apparently, he once had a short beard made from a separate piece of plaster. It was lost in antiquity, as were his ears. His gaze is that of a commanding and willful man, someone who was accustomed to having his orders obeyed. It was the way he wanted to be remembered for eternity.



Ankhhaf's mastaba was the largest in the great Eastern Cemetery at Giza. His bust was installed in a mudbrick chapel attached to the east side of the tomb and oriented so that it faced the chapel's entryway. The chapel walls were covered in exquisitely modeled low relief. It has been suggested that Ankhhaf's arms were sculpted on the low pedestal on which he sat, thereby making him appear even more lifelike. Passersby left more than ninety models of food and drink for Ankhhaf to enjoy in the afterlife. 



Ankhhaf is unique, and by the terms of the Museum's contract with the Egyptian government, he should have gone to the Cairo Museum. However, he was awarded to Boston by the Antiquities Service in gratitude for the Harvard-Boston Expedition's painstaking work to excavate and restore objects from the tomb of Queen Hetepheres.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition, 1927
Accession number: 27.442
Provenance/Ownership History: From Giza, tomb G 7510. 1925: excavated by the Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1927: assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of Egypt.
(Accession Date: July 7, 1927)

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