MFA Field Trip Preview

Next week, our cluster will be visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There, you 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. Here's a preview of selected artifacts that I would like you 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 artifact 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)


Akhenaten receiving the rays of Aten

One of the most interesting pharaohs ever to rule Egypt was named Amenhotep IV, who later renamed himself Akenaten. This pharaoh changed the Egyptian religion and the style of Egyptian art and even moved the capital city of the kingdom from Thebes to a brand new city he built called Amarna. For that reason, this time in history is called the "Amarna Period."

In the comments, can you describe any specific changes that Akhenaten put in place?



* Egyptian, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, 1349–1336 B.C.

Dimensions
    Height x width x depth: 51 x 105.5 x 5.2 cm (20 1/16 x 41 9/16 x 2 1/16 in.)
 
Medium or Technique
    Limestone
 
Classification
    Architectural elements

Accession Number
    64.1944
On view
    Egypt: New Kingdom - 210
Although Akhenaten's religious reforms purged Egyptian art of many of its most familiar manifestations, the king remained fond of the sphinx and often had himself depicted as that fantastic creature - part man, part lion. In Old Kingdom times, the Great Sphinx at Giza probably stood for the king presenting offerings to the sun god, while in the Eighteenth Dynasty the mighty monument was reinterpreted as the sun god Horemakhet, or Horus in the Horizon. Its impeccable solar credentials therefore made the sphinx an appropriate image for Akhenaten at el-Amarna, the city he called Akhetaten, "Horizon of the Sun Disk."



This relief was one of a pair flanking a temple doorway. The sphinx on it rests on a plinth, suggesting that it represents a statue. A pair of such reliefs flanking the doorway of a small temple would have evoked the grand avenues of sphinxes that traditionally led up to the entrance pylons of larger Egyptian sanctuaries. Here the sphinx is equipped with human arms and hands to enable him to make offerings to his god, the sun disk, Aten, who appears at the upper left. He wears the uraeus of kingship while behind him (to the left) are two cartouches containing his lengthy official name. The sun's life-giving rays end in so many hands, some holding ankh-signs. Below are three offering stands. To the right, Akhenaten as sphinx raises one hand in adoration while in the other he holds a neb sign, a basket signifying lordship, holding Aten's cartouches. These same cartouches appear a third time in the upper right where they are joined with the cartouches of Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, who is thus present in name if not in image. The rest of the inscription describes the "great, living Aten" as "dwelling in the Sunshade temple [called] Creator of the Horizon [which is] in Akhetaten." The temple named here, yet to be located, must be the one for which this block was carved. 



Akhenaten's religious revolution was accompanied by a change in the way pharaoh was depicted, showing a marked departure from the idealized images favored by his predecessors. Even though the king's face has been sadly hacked away, one can still discern his characteristic slanted eyes, long nose, hollow cheeks, drooping lower lip, and pendulous chin.

Provenance: Probably from el-Amarna. By 1964: with Ernst E. Kofler, Lucerne, Switzerland; October 4, 1964: purchased by the MFA from Ernst E. Kofler. 

(Accession Date: October 14, 1964). Credit Line:
Egyptian Curator's Fund

The Giza Plateau
Students should check out the Giza Archives section of the MFA website. As you may know, the Museum and Harvard University teamed up in the early 1900s to conduct archaeological digs in the area of the Giza Plateau, the location of the Great Pyramids. The MFA was the only American museum allowed to dig there. As a result, the evidence gathered from these digs has been some of the most important information uncovered about Egyptian history.



The Giza Archives have the original documents, photos, and writings of the original archaeologists on the dig. Many of the artifacts in the MFA's Egyptian collection can be seen in these photos as they appeared in situ.

Check it out:


The MFA's Greek collection is one of the best in North America. The Museum has an especially large gallery of Greek pottery. We've talked a lot about the different gods, goddesses, and myths that made life in ancient Greece more fun and interesting.

The Greek Sphinx
Most people know the term "sphinx" to mean the more famous giant statue which guards the Great Pyramids of Giza, in Egypt. The Greeks, however, had their own version of a sphinx. The Greek sphinx had the body of a lioness, the wings of an eagle, and the head of a woman. She was famous for demanding the answer to a riddle, and for killing those who were incorrect in their answers. Unfortunately, the MFA's Greek sphinx is without its head, so you'll just have to imagine what she looked like.

A Greek Sphinx: What is the difference from an Egyptian Sphinx?
Upper part of a grave stele: seated sphinx (sphinx and capital)

Greek, Archaic Period, about 530 B.C.

Height: 141.7 cm (55 13/16 in.) 

Marble, either island (sphinx and plinth) or Pentelic (capital)
 
Classification: Sculpture
Catalogue: Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 017; Sculpture in Stone and 

Bronze (MFA), p. 106 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 159.
 
On view in the: Early Greek Gallery

Sphinx and plinth were carved in island marble separately from the Pentelic marble capital. This plinth was let into a socket at the top of the capital and secured in a bed of molten lead. There is a large socket on the underside of the capital, with a pour hole from the back side. The abacus and the base of the capital are flush with the volutes, and all surfaces have been smoothed, except the plinth of the sphinx, which shows point or punch marks.

The sphinx crouches to the right, with hind-quarters lifted and head turned to the front. The end of her curving tail rests on her right haunch. The hair, originally black, is shown as a mass descending to the shoulders and divided vertically and horizontally by grooves. The feathers of the wings are carved in relief and were painted alternately green, black, red, and blue. The feathers on the breast form a scale pattern, painted in alternate rows of red and green. The rib of each wing and the flat molding at the top of each foreleg are green.
The capital is of lyre design, consisting of two double volutes, with palmettes in all the interstices. It is open in the center and richly decorated with incised and painted designs. The front and ends of the base are enriched with a delicately carved guilloche. The abacus has four-pointed stars set on three-petaled palmettes, three in front and one on each end. The outer sides of the volutes are incised and painted with a large lotus and palmette pattern. Alternating red and black colors complement the form, carving and incision.
Sphinx and capital have been broken into a number of pieces and rejoined, with slight restorations at the joins. There is more restoration in the lower part of the capital than elsewhere, but this is to a great extent supplanted by an extra piece acquired nearly twenty years after the original purchase was first undertaken. The surfaces are very fresh. The fragments with the parts of the dedicatory inscription have the handsome golden yellow patina of the best Pentelic marble.
See: 40.724a-b for inscribed fragments.

See also Cls. Inv. 186.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
1931 and 1939 Purchase Funds, 1940
Accession number: 40.576
Provenance/Ownership History: By date unknown: with Brummer Gallery, Inc., 110 East 58th Street, New York; purchased by MFA from Brummer Gallery, Inc., October 10, 1940, for $ 65,000.00


The ancient Romans copied much of the Greek culture, art, and mythology and adopted it as their own.

This sarcophagus was made to bury the body of a wealthy Roman. The side is a huge and detailed sculpture showing the "triumph of Dionysus." The Greek god Dionysus represented wine and partying, among other things. One day the hero Hercules challenged the god to a drinking contest. Not a good idea.

Hercules lost the contest, the one time in his life he ever lost. If you look at the details, you'll see all kinds of crazy and exotic animals including elephants and giraffes. At the far right, some satyrs are helping Hercules to walk, since he's pretty shaky on his legs.

Roman Sarcophagus from about 220 A.D.

Sarcophagus with triumph of Dionysos
 
Roman, Imperial Period, about A.D. 215–225
 
Overall: 77.5 x 208cm (30 1/2 x 81 7/8in.)

Other (Body): 59cm (23 1/4in.)

Other (lid): 18.5cm (7 5/16in.)

Case (Rolling steel pedestal with wooden skirts/plex-bonnet): 77.5 x 228.6 x 76.5 cm (30 1/2 x 90 x 30 1/8 in.)


Marble, from the island of Proconnesus in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul



Inscriptions: An inscription along the lower edge reads, "Marcus Vibius Agesilaus Junior made it (i.e. set up this monument?) for Marcus Liberalis, the son of Marcus, the Praetor, his tutor" or "who brought him up."

Classification: Sculpture
Catalogue: Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 244; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 113 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 108-109.
On view in the: Roman Gallery

The god of wine and dramatic festivals, in full choral attitude, steps into a biga drawn by two Indian elephants with fringed cloths on their backs. He is supported by his companion the satyr Ampelos and attended by the complete Dionysiac train of Sileni, pans, satyrs, maenads, and the exotic animals of his triumph in India.



The inscription reads :M~VIBIO~M~FIL~LIBERALI~PRAET~M~VIBIVS~AGESILAVS~IVNIOR~NVTRICIO~SUO~FEC ("Marcus Vibius Agesilaus junior made (it) for Marcus Vibius Liberalis, son of Marcus, the praetor, his foster-father" ).

The condition is, generally speaking, superb, with the small breaks, missing limbs, and absent attributes apparent from illustrations. The surfaces, particularly of the nude or seminude figures, retain their high polish. There are no restorations of the kind that ruin so many sarcophagi. The sections cracked or broken through have been carefully rejoined, and the missing pieces of the lid hardly detract from the visual sweep and rhythm of the triumphal procession. The three-volume corpus of Dionysiac sarcophagi reveals that very few of these monuments of Greek art in the Roman Empire have their original (or any) lids preserved in any form or condition.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
William Francis Warden Fund, 1972
Accession number: 1972.650
Provenance/Ownership History: By date unknown: collection of an international banker in northwest Europe; by 1972: with Miss Jeanette Brun, Dufourstrasse 119, Zurich 8008, Switzerland; purchased by MFA from Miss Jeanette Brun, June 7, 1972

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Otzi the Iceman: Murder Mystery!

The Agricultural Revolution

Ancient Near East Unit Vocabulary