Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 121 (Vol 21.1) September/October 2020
Painting in Antiquity: Ancient Egypt in the Art of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Edward Poynter and Edwin Long
by Stephanie Moser
Oxford University Press, 2020
When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 he opened an Egyptological and artistic Pandora’s Box. Whilst Egyptology blossomed after the decipherment of hieroglyphs in 1822, artists were quick to investigate Egyptian themes and monuments.
Notable amongst them were the three prominent artists whose works are presented and analysed here, with new perspectives on their use and appreciation of the material culture of ancient Egypt. Whilst all their major works relating to ancient Egypt are represented here (in over two hundred colour and black-and-white illustrations), the focus is on explaining the significance of nineteenth century painting to the reconstruction and interpretation of the Egyptian past.
Their sources – museum objects or engravings from the huge volumes of the Napoleonic Description de l’Egypte – are also illustrated, examined and explained.
Ancient Egypt was a popular subject for many artists at the time and general views of Egyptian monuments proliferated.
However Alma-Tadema, Poynter and Long stood out in focussing on specific artefacts, incorporating genuine antiquities into their painting – many of the pieces well known museum objects but also a number from their own collections.
Observed archaeology lies at the heart of these works, which were seen as “imaginative yet informative constructions of the past”. The detail is quite incredible, often only properly noted by the attention given to them in this tightly observed text. Occasionally the three artists step away from this “archaeological genre painting” and address wider topics, for example Anno Domini, The Flight into Egypt (Edwin Long), or Israel in Egypt (Edward Poynter). These two paintings are immense (both over 15ft long) and so are often kept in storage; Israel in Egypt in the Guildhall Art Gallery has been moved in and out of store at least three times to the reviewer’s knowledge, and is presently not on show.
So often, the works of these three artists are seen only as part of a wider artistic milieu: the broader canvas that draws the eye but in so doing omits the detail. Here for the first time they are described in invaluable and impeccable detail, illuminating both the artistic skill behind their composition, context and content, and the social environment that guided many of the choices of subject.
Professor Moser’s in-depth examination of the Egyptian-orientated works of these three artists is a major contribution to the understanding of their response to the ‘Egyptomania’ that swept nineteenth century England.
Peter A. Clayton
Peter is the author of The Rediscovery of Ancient Egypt: Artists and Travelers in the 19th Century. 1982, repr.1990.
Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination: Art, Literature and Culture
ed. Eleanor Dobson and Nichola Tonks
This volume of fifteen essays derives from the ‘Tea with the Sphinx’ conferences at the University of Birmingham: Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination (2016) and Defining the Field of Ancient Egypt Reception Studies (2017).
The essays examine various representations of ancient Egypt in Western culture from the eighteenth century to modern times. The multidisciplinary approach seeks to break down boundaries between disciplines within the arts and humanities for a “nuanced understanding” of ancient Egypt.
Tonks believes that “‘popular’ engagements with ancient Egypt are as worthy of scholarly attention as the artefacts that hail from the ‘Land of the Pharaohs’ themselves”. The editors champion studies of Egyptomania by academics and ‘scholars’ from a variety of disciplines, not exclusively Egyptology, and a deliberate effort is made to combine theories of different disciplines within each essay.
The essays are equally divided into three sections. ‘The Egyptologial Imaginary’ considers the influence of Egyptology on the arts, although two of the five essays examine literature.
After investigating replicas of objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun and tracing their history, Egyptologist Gabrielle Heffernan continues with an evaluation of the role of replicas in museums and heritage sites. The remaining essays address the influence of the Egyptocentric diffusionist theories of Grafton Elliot Smith et al. relative to scarabs discovered near Stonehenge in 1928, and the ideas of Wyndham Lewis about the origins of Egyptian art.
‘Death and Mysticism’ draws upon the supposed Egyptian preoccupation with death. Two essays consider Egyptianising funerary architecture and burial topics. Others deal with Tutmania and Cartier jewellery, the use of Egyptian religion by the founders of two modern revivals of the worship of Isis, and ancient Egypt in the graphic novel From Hell.
‘Gender and Sexuality’ explores connections with ancient Egypt across the twentieth century, and mostly concerns women’s studies. Egyptology Professor R. B. Parkinson outlines the context for English authors who wrote about ancient Egypt around 1920.
The remaining essay contemplates Cleopatra and Elizabeth Taylor as “decadent femmes fatales”.
This collection of eclectic essays shows that ancient Egypt has pervaded many aspects of modern Western culture. The content would appeal to academics already familiar with past and current theories that could be relevant to Egyptian reception studies.
For non-academic readers, the book provides an introduction to the new directions and themes such studies are taking without Egyptology as the driving discipline. This volume is well documented with endnotes, a detailed bibliography and is illustrated by 38 black-and-white figures.
of the Cobra Province in Egypt:
by Wolfram Grajetzki
Oxbow Books, 2020
There has long been a tradition in Egyptology of writing history with the king at the centre of attention.
Wolfram Grajetzki instead offers a “history from below” – investigating the lives of the wider working population and focussing on one particular centre – the Tenth Upper Egyptian Wadjet (Cobra) province, from the Badarian Period to the end of the Second Intermediate Period.
Although never of central importance to the Egyptian state, the Wadjet region is one of the best documented archaeological areas in Egypt, following the excavation of some five thousand burials in the 1920s. Most of these graves belonged to farmers and were simple surface burials, and the author offers extensive and detailed explorations of these and the monumental tombs of the local governors throughout.
Grajetzki begins by exploring the issues of this approach, specifically the dangers of imposing the writer’s own social background and worldview onto an ancient society (he points to the influence of “neoliberal ideas of the market economy held by Egyptologists of the Anglo-American world” on our interpretation of ancient Egyptian society), and explains how he has applied a Marxist approach, focussing on the ‘mode of production’ – the economic base and infrastructure – as opposed to the system of beliefs and ideologies that shaped society. Taking a chronological survey of the local evidence, he looks for interaction between farmers and the ruling classes of the royal residence and local province, concluding that Marx’s ‘Tributary Mode of Production’ model (formerly known as the ‘Asiatic Mode’) best fits the situation in Egypt during the Old and Middle Kingdoms: free peasants living in villages, working land owned by the local or royal ruling classes, and providing them with yearly ‘taxes’ or rather collections of resources (agricultural, material and, during the Old Kingdom, corvée labour for royal building projects such as pyramids).
If this sounds rather academic, do not be put off. Grajetzki paints a fascinating picture of the lives of the provincial farmers interwoven with a wider historical narrative of the development of the Egyptian state over this period. The book is highly readable, packed with information and references and written so that you can choose to read through the overarching historical narrative, delve into the details of individual burials in the province, or digress and explore particular topics such as ‘Patronage’ and ‘Learning, reading and writing’, presented as excursus within the chapters.
Read more about the people of the Cobra province in Wolfram’s article in AE119.
Living Forever: Self-presentation in Ancient Egypt
edited by Hussein Bassir
The American University in Cairo Press, 2019
It has become fashionable amongst Egyptologists to talk of ‘self-presentation’ rather than ‘(auto)biography’, as the former encompasses both the visual and written media involved in lasting communication. The chapters of this book chart the well-attested concern of the élite to speak to posterity, usually in monumental form, so that their names (and reputations) would live forever.
The volume begins with an erudite essay by Christopher Eyre, setting out the forms of, and audiences for, self-presentations.
He makes the important point that almost nothing of the ‘inner life’ of an individual (a modern concern of biographic forms) is preserved in the Egyptian record. Nor was it intended to be; ancient élites conform to normative ideals.
Individual authors provide commentary on chronological segments but it is notable how many refer to self-presentations from other periods in their own segment – proving that, overall, Egyptian texts frequently refer to each other rather than to the real world.
The range of media – from tomb and temple walls to statues and stelae – highlights that the content of the self-presentation frequently responded to its physical setting.
For anyone who has studied any ancient Egyptian text, the book is useful in setting this in context. This is not a sourcebook of self-presentations in translation, as are found in – for example – works by Miriam Lichtheim. This volume offers analysis of the overall forms and functions of self-presentations, with a good number of quotations from both well-known and rather more obscure monuments.
It is laudable that the entire Pharaonic era – from the Early Dynastic to the Ptolemaic Period – is covered, with special consideration in a final chapter by Mariam Ayad of the rather rare monumental voices of women.
Despite consistent concerns for an idealising picture of the élite protagonists, there are definite fashions and styles that appear – such as Second Intermediate Period military concerns or Third Intermediate Period descriptions of temple space. Among several very strong papers, Gareth Roberts’ focus on scribal authorship is important, as is Pope’s analysis of the role of the king in the Kushite Period.
This is a broad but very useful range of closely related papers. Importantly, it gathers something from academic discussion and presents it to a wider audience. In that, the book is something of an Egyptological ‘self-presentation’ of the state of the art in debates around literacy, identity and élite culture – and thankfully not at a price only the élite can afford!
Creatures of Earth, Water, And Sky: Essays on Animals in Ancient Egypt and Nubia
edited by Stéphanie Porcier, Salima Ikram & Stéphane Pasquali
Sidestone Press, 2019
Hardback, €135; Paperback, €44.95; Read free online at www.sidestone.com
The first ever international conference dedicated to animals in ancient Egypt and Nubia was held in Lyon in June 2016, and here you can find 32 papers presented at that meeting from researchers from a wide range of disciplines from epigraphy and analytical chemistry to archaeozoology and conservation.
The papers (15 in French and 18 in English) cover areas of research into the use of sacred animals, representations of animals and their meanings in Egyptian art, interactions between animals, humans and their environment and new methods of analysis and conservation of animal mummies.
A wide range of animals and birds are featured. Halima Ali Toybou explores the exploitation of ostriches in ancient Egypt and Nubia, highlighting the relative scarcity of ostrich-shell beads found in Egyptian tombs compared to those in Nubia. Aiman Ashmawy Ali investigates a group of donkey burials found at the Delta site of Tell el-Yahudia which were associated with Hyksos burials and the associations of donkeys with the god Set.
Julie Anderson and Daniel Antoine describe the scientific analysis of a large crocodile mummy in the British Museum which was mummified with over 25 crocodile hatchlings attached to its back; a study of its stomach contents (prime cuts of meat) suggests it was a sacred crocodile rather than a votive offering. Linda Evans solves the mystery of ‘Baqet’s Rat’, revealing that the unusual rodent depicted taking on a cat in the Tomb of Baqet III at Beni Hasan is a Nile grass rat, while highlighting how relatively rare images of mice and rats are in Egyptian art despite being the most commonly encountered animals in human life.
Silvia Bussi shows how the practice of animal cults became one of the principal sources of wealth for the Egyptian temples in the Graeco- Roman Period, while Tessa T. Baber narrates the sorry tale of how the ‘inexhaustible supply’ of animal mummies ended up as souvenirs or as ingredients of fuel, paper, fertiliser, medicine and paint during the rush to explore Egypt from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, but also points out how ironically it is the written accounts of the mummy pit plunderers that has provided us with so much information about the animal catacombs.
Other papers include the experimental mummification research of Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Woolham on animal mummies at the Manchester Museum (see articles in AE91 and 92 for more on this work), Paul Nicholson on the Ibis Catacomb at Saqqara and Salima Ikram “Shedding New Light on Old Corpses” in her introduction to the current state of study of ancient Egyptian animal remains.
Well illustrated, with copious references, this will appeal to anyone with an interest in the relationship between the ancient Egyptians and the animals around them and is available to read free on the Sidestone website.
Introduction to the Religion of Kush
by Josefine Kuckertz and Angelika Lohwasser
J. H. Röll Verlag, 2020
The subject of ancient religion in Nubia is gaining popularity as current excavations in the region reveal more evidence for religious practice at both a state and a local level. This volume, written by experts in the field, is intended to function as a ‘handbook’ to summarise and document different aspects of Kushite culture. Kuckertz and Lohwasser address themes relating to aspects of ‘high religion’ – i.e.
state religion and élite practices – alongside discussions of more everyday aspects of religion which reflect the actions and beliefs of the general population of this region over time.
Arranged chronologically, the authors first present a geographical and historical overview of the Kushite Empire, and the background to the study of this area. The textual, art-historical and archaeological evidence for religion during the Napatan Period (c.
750–300 BC) is the focus of the first section of the book, drawing together historical sources for religious activity during this period both in Egypt and in Kush, and highlighting evidence for their interaction. A particularly useful element in this section is the discus- sion of the Kushite pantheon (deities also worshipped in Egypt) and the local aspects of their cult in ancient Kush. Napatan temple architecture and funerary practices represent the intertwining of Egyptian and Kushite beliefs and representations, and these are also explored in detail.
These same themes are then addressed in the second section, which moves through time to focus on the Meroitic Period (c. 300 BC - 300/350 AD). While Egyptian deities including Amun, Osiris, Hathor and Thoth are still worshipped during this time in ancient Kush, there is evidence for the emergence of local Meroitic deities, including the lion-headed warrior god Apedemak.
The book concludes with a fascinating overview of cult practice and evidence of religious performance during the Kushite Period, including a discussion of religious expression beyond the official religion of kings and the élite. This holistic approach to cult practice beyond issues of ‘high religion’ is especially welcome. Richly illustrated in colour throughout, this is an essential work for those who are beginners to Kushite religion and history, and for those who are specialists in the field.
The Festivals of Opet, The Valley, and the New Year: Their Socio-religious Functions
by Mashashi Fukaya
Archaeopress Egyptology 28 Archaeopress, 2020
Paperback, £45, e-book £16.
In this latest Archaeopress Egyptology volume, Mashashi Fukaya presents an in-depth exploration of three major festivals of the New Kingdom and their religious, social, economic and public aspects.
The author concentrates on the festivals held at Thebes, where the large temples, necropolis and the processional routes between them have survived, and where there is also a large number of private tombs with depictions of various elements of these celebrations.
The processions of the gods allowed a wider audience to see and have access to the divine through the spectacle of public ceremony, and studying these festivals individually sheds light on both the interactions between god and king, and between the king and the festival participants – for this work, focussing on élite participation as there is insufficient evidence for the role these celebrations played in the lives of ordinary people.
Each of the three festivals is studied in detail, broken down into their constituent rituals and events, with comparisons made between them. The Opet Feast of Amun took place by road and water between the temples of Karnak and Luxor, allowing the god to distribute his benefaction to people in the form of life – ankh – represented by a bouquet also called “ankh”. As oracles formed a major part of this festival, and the god required time to answer all queries, this was one of the longest celebrations in the Egyptian calendar, lasting around 24 days (27 during the reign of Ramesses III), as reflected in the huge number of divine offerings consumed (11,341 for the Opet compared to 1,150 at the Valley Festival).
In the New Kingdom the festivals of Opet and the Valley were considered to be a pair, representing life and death respectively. The Valley Festival was celebrated only at Thebes and involved processions to the temples at Deir el-Bahri. A dual celebration, the royal family would perform rituals at the mortuary temples while private people worshipped their ancestors in their tombs.
The New Year Festival was a national celebration held at each temple in the name of its local god.
During this short festival, rejuvenation rituals were carried out for the god, followed by the consecration of statues and buildings, the renewal of kingship and evening banquets at private tombs. The festival also marked the end of the harvest where the king would present a portion of his newly collected tax to the god.
The book is well illustrated with plenty of references for further study. Sadly, minor grammatical errors appear frequently throughout the text – in some cases affecting the readers understanding of the arguments – and should have been picked up in the editing. But this aside, Mashashi Fukaya’s work is a welcome addition to studies of ancient Egyptian religion, highly recommended for scholars and anyone wanting to know more about these spectacular religious ceremonies.
Is There Not
One Among You Who Understands Egyptian?
by Helmut Satzinger
GHP Egyptology 31 Golden House Publications, 2020
‘Late Egyptian’ was a written form of language that was in use by the time of the New Kingdom, following on from the classical form – Middle Egyptian – but not descended from it nor completely replacing it. Late Egyptian appears to have been more representative of the way people spoke from the New Kingdom onwards.
This volume, aimed at the language specialist, defines and demonstrates the distinguishing features of Late Egyptian independent of previous forms of the language, including surveys of its new grammatical rules and vocabulary.
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