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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Nine Issue Five - April 2009

Book Reviews Index

 

 

Egyptian Wall Painting

by Francesco Tiradritti

 

With nearly four hundred pages, this is a large and lavish book looking at two-dimensional art (paintings and painted reliefs) in ancient Egypt.

 

Many of the colour plates are reproduced on a special matte paper “designed to simulate the feel of the stuccoed limestone on which the original images were painted”. I am not sure if this actually works, but it is much easier to see the wonderful scenes without the glare often present in more glossy (in the literal sense) publications.

 

Introductory chapters look at the principles of Egyptian figural art, the colours and the techniques used to create the paintings.

 

There then follows a chronological look at the art from the Predynastic Period to the New Kingdom.

 

There is a particularly good selection of large images from many familiar private and royal tombs, especially the tombs of Tutankhamun, Rameses I (these two not necessarily known for the quality of their art), Sety I and Nefertari. Paintings after the New Kingdom become increasingly rare, but the book does include later periods, and included are some late paintings from tombs at Bahariya Oasis, plus the recently cleaned Roman paintings from the Temple of Luxor.

 

The well-written and informative text seeks to put the paintings in their historical, and most importantly their cultural and religious context; for most of the works of art reproduced here were never actually intended to be seen, but had a very practical and important purpose, which is often forgotten today.

 

This book is certainly well illustrated, and many scenes, such as paintings from the First and Second Intermediate Periods, are all-too-rarely included in books on art, so it is good to see them included here.

 

This is much more than just a large-format coffee-table book. It will appeal to art historians, Egyptologists, linguists and anyone who want to enjoy and understand some of the most impressive and sophisticated examples of ancient art to have survived A version of the book is also available in a slipcase, ISBN 978 0 7892 1008 1, price £90.

 

Abbeville Press Publishing, 2008.

ISBN 978 0 7892 1005 0.

Hardback, price £80.

 

Women on the Nile

by Joan Rees

 

This is a revised and updated version of a book first published in 1995 (and published under the title Writings on the Nile).

 

The author combines extracts of accounts of Nile journeys from three remarkable nineteenth century travellers: Harriet Martineau, a well known campaigner for social causes, Florence Nightingale, reformer of nursing and hospital practices, and Amelia Edwards, who founded the Egypt Exploration Fund (now the Egypt Exploration Society) and who endowed the first-ever Chair of Egyptology at University College London.

 

This was a time when many single-minded women travelled to little-known places. Their experiences and accounts of their travels were, in many cases, published and became the bestsellers of their time.

 

Harriet Martineau visited Egypt in 1846, Florence Nightingale in 1849 and Amelia Edwards in 1873. Harriet and Florence made detailed observations of what they saw, describing the locals they met and the places they visited, and making observations and comments on them. They were all accomplished writers and Harriet’s and Florence’s comments extend to some of the crucial issues of nineteenth century debate, such as religion, the origins and destiny of mankind and the position and role of women.

 

By the time Amelia Edwards visited the country, Egypt had become more popular and she found herself documenting places and sites that were being destroyed by travellers and treasure hunters; hence her campaign to record and preserve, and to instigate proper excavations.

 

These were women who at home were constrained by custom and conventions, but who came alive in Egypt and widened their perspectives. In their writing they were also able to widen the perspectives of those who could not actually visit Egypt.

 

Many of the places they visited are still popular today and modern visitors will be able to follow in the footsteps of these formidable lady explorers. Many of their comments and observations still ring true today.

 

This could be an ideal book to take to Egypt with you on a Nile cruise. It is fascinating to see how much some things have changed since the 1800s, but also how much is still the same.

 

Published by The Rubicon Press,

2008. ISBN 978 0 948695 74 2.

Hardback, price £18.95.

 

 

 

Bulletin of the Egyptian Museum

These are the second and third in this series of publications; the Editor-in- Chief is Dr. Zahi Hawass and the Editor Dr. Khaled Daoud

                   

 

Unlike many museums, the displays in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, as visitors will have noticed, are constantly changing, to allow for new objects to be seen by the public and familiar objects to be conserved or restored.

 

The bulletin is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the work of the Museum; each edition features a number of articles by those working in and for the Museum. Not all the articles relate to objects in the Museum – some concern excavations or new studies of monuments, and even new excavations.

 

Volume Two includes articles on the identification of a statue head of Sneferu, a piece on the features of early Twelfth Dynasty royal sculpture, and one on the remarkable and unique restored copper statues of Pepy I.

 

Volume Three includes one article on the mummy of the unknown man from the Royal Cache of mummies at Deir el Bahri, another on the Mastaba of Meresankh at Giza, and a list of items and displays intended for the new Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza when it opens in a few years’ time.

 

Informative, well illustrated and written, these annual bulletins are a welcome insight into the work of the Museum and the SCA.

 

Published by The Supreme Council of Antiquities

Paperback, price £19.95 each.

Vol 2, 2005; ISBN 978 977 305 830 1

Vol 3, 2006; ISBN 978 977 437 296 4

 

 

Pocket Book of Ancient Egypt

by Farid Atiya

 

This is a ‘pocket book’ that will actually fit into a pocket, just, although it is a dumpy little volume with nearly four hundred pages and a solid binding.

 

Full of excellent small photos, it includes all the classic views that visitors to Egypt will probably take themselves, but it also includes many views taken inside tombs and museums, where photography is now banned for visitors.

 

The book opens with a section on the making of Egypt, with some wonderful views of the Egyptian landscape – so good in fact it makes one wish this was not a ‘pocket book’! Each image is accompanied by a brief but informative text.

 

This is perhaps the ideal book for anyone who has visited Egypt and who wants a small and convenient ‘souvenir’; it would be ideal for those who have not taken any photos of their own, or who want to see some of the highlights from tombs and museums they have visited.

 

Published by Farid Atiya Press

2007. ISBN 977 17 4439 9.

Hardback, price $17.95.

 

Traveller’s Guide to the Ancient World:
Egypt in the year 1200 BC

by Charlotte Booth

 

 

With so many books being written about Egypt, it is easy to understand why authors and publishers are looking for a different approach to the subject, and this book certainly provides that.

 

This is a ‘travel guide’, written for someone visiting Egypt in 1200 BC in the reign of Rameses II. A novel approach, but then there aren’t exactly many people around able to do this.

 

A section ‘How to Get There’ explains how to travel around Egypt using boats, and how boats are constructed, but seems to assume that the traveller has already arrived in Egypt, by whatever means possible – either a long overland journey or a very dangerous and long sea journey (which would make the modern delays at Heathrow airport pale into insignificance, I suppose).

 

The book is very readable, though I am not sure if it works for the reader or visitor to Egypt today.

 

For example, it explains carefully to the Ramesside traveller that most visitors cannot enter Karnak Temple, so it is a little vague about what the interior is like, but it does point out that they might get to see the ‘Temple of the Hearing Ear’ at the back of the main complex, which is accessible to the public.

 

Similarly the book mentions the fifty or so tombs in the Valley of Kings, but says that they are not accessible (assuming, of course, that anyone in 1200 BC actually knew how many tombs there were).

 

Thutmose III’s temple at Deir el Bahri is included, along with a plan, whilst Hatshepsut’s is not. Hatshepsut’s reliefs were usurped by Thutmose III and her name was effectively erased from history; it would not have been known at the time of Rameses II.

 

The problem with writing a book like this is that we do not necessarily know what was still intact or accessible at any given date.

 

Were the tombs at Beni Hasan open at that time, how much of the Step Pyramid complex was standing then, was the underground structure known, and was it known how the plans for the pyramid itself had changed during construction? The answer to the last question is possibly not, as the changes are only visible to us today because the outer casing stones have all been removed; they were probably still in place in Rameses II’s time. Similarly the many Sekhmet statues in the temple of Mut at Karnak are mentioned, although we now know that they were moved there from Amenhotep III’s Mortuary Temple on the West Bank well after the reign of Rameses II.

 

There is a great deal of information in this small book, even though I suspect that any real traveller/foreigner in Egypt in 1200 BC would have seen very little of any of the major sites we see today. Temples and tombs would have been no-go areas. It was probably not until the Graeco-Roman Period, when many of the sites had been abandoned, that tourists started visiting Egypt.

 

Published by David and Charles, 2008.

ISBN 978 0 7153 2921 4.

Hardback, price £9.99.

 

Taposiris Magna:
A Temple, Fortress and Monastery of Egypt

by Gyozo Vörös

 

Taposiris is on the north coast of Egypt some forty-five kilometres west of Alexandria. As anyone travelling along the coastal road will know the temple/ fortress dominates the skyline.

 

Hungarian excavations, led by the author of this book, have revealed much about this complex and important site.

 

Originally it was an Egyptian temple with pylons and a great stone enclosure wall; excavations have uncovered the foundations of a Greek temple, the only one discovered to date in Egypt.

 

The later temple was dismantled in the Roman Period when the site became a garrison fortress. Later, in the fourth century AD, a Christian basilica was constructed inside the fortress, and the temple became a monastery.

 

With text in English and Hungarian, this well illustrated and written book looks at the history and importance of the site, at the various stages of excavation, and the many discoveries made there from the different periods.

 

It is interesting to see how the different phases and periods of construction of the various buildings at the site reused stone from earlier buildings: the Greek temple column drums were used to increase the height of the enclosure wall when it became a fortress, and the fine paving stones of the courtyard were broken up to construct smaller buildings and rooms in the complex.

 

In the fourth year of the Arab occupation of Egypt, the monastery was destroyed, but not before the monks hid some of their treasures underneath the paving stones of the church, where the archaeologists found them. The same thing had happened earlier, when a Roman soldier hid objects when the shrine to Isis was destroyed. Again, his cache was discovered. This and many other finds, illustrated and described in this book, tell the history of the site.

 

It would seem that there are plans to reconstruct the monastery at the site, or at least hopes that this might happen; detailed plans and reconstructions are included in the final chapter of the book.

 

The plans are impressive and involve rebuilding the basilica directly on top of the ancient foundations. The plans also allow for the partial reconstruction and setting out of the outline of the Greek temple. It remains to be seen if this actually happens, for excavations at the site are still ongoing, though the Hungarian team ended their work there in 2004.

 

This book fills a useful gap and will be a rewarding read for anyone who has previously visited the site or intends to do so. It was will make it much easier to interpret the remains and shadows of once-great buildings that once stood there.

 

Published by The Egypt Excavation Society of Hungary, 2004.

ISBN 978-9632148861.

Hardback, price £32.50.

 

Sex and Gender in Ancient Egypt:

"Don Your Wig For a Joyful Hour"

Edited by Carolyn Graves- Brown

 

In 2005, The Egypt Centre at Swansea organised an excellent conference, with the same title as this new book, which is a collection of some of the papers presented by an international selection of experts on various aspects of the subject.

 

As the editor points out, archaeology and Egyptology came late to the exploration of sex and gender, although it is interesting to note that the information available from ancient Egypt did not fit the patterns seen elsewhere in the ancient world by modern feminists.

 

The Editor looks at many of the studies written on aspects of sexuality in ancient Egypt and includes a good and comprehensive bibliography.

 

Some eleven papers are included:

The problem of female rebirth in New Kingdom Egypt – the fragmentation of the female individual in her funerary equipment, Kathryn M. Cooney;

Queering sex and gender in ancient Egypt, Thomas A. Dowson;

Power on their own – gender and social roles in provincial New Kingdom Egypt, Terence DuQuesne;

People vs. P. Turin 55001 (the so-called ‘erotic papyrus’), Jiri Janak and Hana Navratilova;

Breaches of cooperative rules – metaphors and parody in ancient Egyptian love songs, Renata Landgrafova;

Rules of decorum and expressions of gender fluidity in Tawosret’s tomb, Heather Lee McCarthy;

Boasting about hardness – constructions of Middle Kingdom masculinity, Richard B. Parkinson;

Queer Egyptologies of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, Greg Reeder;

Did women ‘do things’ in ancient Egypt? Carolyn Routledge;

The bearded woman and the queen – the formation and transformation of female divine classifiers, Racheli Shalomi-Hen;

Gender and requests in New Kingdom literature, Deborah Sweeney.

 

These papers, some of the latest thoughts and research on sex and gender in ancient Egypt, are a useful addition to the existing publications and will be of great use to any student who is working on this aspect of ancient Egypt, or whose own subject might touch on it. It will also be of use to anyone interested in the subject; as the Editor points out in her introduction, it is clearly a subject that deserves much more research and attention in the future, by Egyptologists, by experts in other fields and even by those considered to be ‘marginal groups’ to encourage discussions with other disciplines.

 

Published by The Classical Press of Wales, 2008.

ISBN 978-1905125241

Hardback, price £50.

 

Luxor Museum: the Glory of Ancient Thebes

by Abeer el-Shahawy

Photographs by Farid Atiya

 

The splendid Luxor Museum is home to some amazing examples of ancient Egyptian art, all connected to the surrounding area, many having been found in temples and tombs in and around ancient Thebes.

 

The introduction sets the scene with an overview of the history, development and importance of ancient Thebes.

 

The main part of the book features images and information about many of the key pieces on display in the Museum and over forty exhibits are included. The Museum was extended a few years ago, and some of the objects in the new display are featured here.

 

The written entries describing the objects are accurate and useful and provide much information about each piece. The photographs are on the whole very good, but one or two objects, notably the fabulous statue of Amenhotep III found in Luxor Temple, would have benefited from better lighting, as the photographs appear very ‘flat’, which is a shame.

 

However, the Museum is well worth a visit, and as taking photographs in museums is no longer allowed, this would make a suitable souvenir to buy after your visit, or perhaps even to obtain before you visit the Museum. If you are able to read this book before going to the Museum, what is always guaranteed to be a good place to visit will become even more memorable.

 

The objects are included not in chronological order, but roughly in the order that they can be seen in the Museum. The book is small enough to be able to take with you to the Museum, and will be certain to ‘enhance the visitor experience’.

 

Click here to see preview pages on amazon.com

 

Published by Farid Atiya Press, 2007.

ISBN 978-9771723523

Hardback, price £22.50.

 

Leaving Thebes

by Tim Cooper

 

This small book started as an online journal, and is a personal account of a visit to Luxor.

 

Anyone who has visited Luxor will appreciate the comments, experiences and observations in this book and it contains good information for any independent traveller.

 

The author has self-published this title and all the profits will be given to a Luxor charity, Luxor4Care, which was set up in 2007 by a small group of local residents (mainly British ex-pats.) to provide material support for Luxor’s children’s care homes, in particular through the provision of health, educational and physiotherapy facilities.

 

They distribute clothing, toys, educational aids etc., brought to Luxor by visitors from abroad, to the various homes. This is a recent, and fairly small-scale venture that is making just that little bit of difference to the lives of disadvantaged children in Luxor. As such it compliments, rather than competes with, the provision of other local charities such as Sunshine and Little Stars.

 

For more information, or to by a copy of the book, visit: www.lulu.com/content/4778500 or email the author directly at: charta @ hotmail.co.uk (where the book price is lower, at £8.99 - click here for details).

 

www.cooperbooks.co.uk, 2008.

Paperback, price £9.85.

 

Treasures of Ancient Egypt

Editor Catherine Chambers

 

 

This book is packed full of information grouped under a number of generic headings. The contents are copyright of DeAgostini UK Ltd, which means, I think, that it was first published as a ‘part-work’ collected over weeks, or possibly years.

 

The book relies heavily on its many excellent photographs and I particularly like the extended picture captions, where a great deal of additional information is given. As well as a general caption, details within each image are picked out, identified and explained.

 

The photographs are supplemented by many specially-commissioned maps, plans and line drawings. The book should appeal to children in particular, but would also be ideal for anyone absolutely new to the subject.

 

The order of contents is not always logical, but this is certainly a book that can be dipped into from time to time and each chapter stands alone. A bibliography would have been an improvement.

 

Published by Amber Books, 2007.

ISBN 978 1 905704 51 4.

Hardback, price £9.99.

 

 

 

RP

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