Ancient Egypt and Archaeology Web Site

Metropolitan Museum
The collection of ancient Egyptian art at the Metropolitan Museum ranks among the finest outside Cairo. It consists of approximately 36,000 objects of artistic, historical, and cultural importance, dating from the Paleolithic to the Roman period (c. 300,000 BC–4th century AD). More than half of the collection is derived from the Museum's thirty-five years of archaeological work in Egypt, initiated in 1906 in response to increasing public interest in the culture of ancient Egypt. Today, virtually the entire collection is on display in thirty-two major galleries and eight study galleries, with objects arranged chronologically. Overall, the holdings reflect the aesthetic values, history, religious beliefs, and daily life of the ancient Egyptians over the entire course of their great civilization.

The Department of Egyptian Art is particularly well known for the Old Kingdom mastaba (offering chapel) of Perneb (c. 2450 BC); a set of Middle Kingdom wooden models from the tomb of Meketre at Thebes (c. 1990 BC); jewellery of Princess Sit-hathor-yunet of Dynasty 12 (c. 1897–1797 BC); royal portrait sculpture of 12th Dynasty (c.1991–1783 BC); and statuary of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut of Dynasty 18 (c. 1473–1458 BC). The department also exhibits its invaluable collection of watercolour facsimiles, most of which are copies of Theban tomb paintings produced between 1907 and 1937 by members of the Graphic Section of the Museum's Egyptian Expedition.

Highlights from the department are presented online in approximate chronological order, and are identified by dynasty and/or period.  In some cases these are used on this site, as the text accompanying those images.  The Museum's web site is excellent.  Where an image originated from the Metropolitan site it is marked.

More about the Collection
The Department of Egyptian Art was established in 1906 to oversee the Museum's already sizable collection of art from ancient Egypt. The collection had been growing since 1874 thanks to individual gifts from benefactors and acquisition of private collections (such as the Drexel Collection in 1889, the Farman Collection in 1904, and the Ward Collection in 1905), as well as through yearly subscriptions, from 1895 onward, to the Egypt Exploration Fund, a British organization that conducted archaeological excavations in Egypt and donated a share of its finds to subscribing institutions.

Also in 1906, the Museum's Board of Trustees voted to establish an Egyptian Expedition to conduct archaeological excavations at several sites along the Nile. Instrumental in this decision was J. Pierpont Morgan, the Museum's president, who visited the expedition periodically until his death in 1913. At the time, the Egyptian government (through the Egyptian Antiquities Service) was granting foreign institutions the right to excavate with the understanding that the resulting finds would be divided fifty-fifty between the excavators and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Metropolitan Museum was granted concessions for the Middle Kingdom royal cemeteries of Lisht, a site located on the west bank of the Nile approximately thirty miles south of modern Cairo; the Late Dynastic Period temple of Hibis at Kharga Oasis in the western desert; the New Kingdom royal palace at Malkata; and the Middle and New Kingdom cemeteries and temples of Deir el-Bahri in the Theban necropolis opposite modern Luxor. Subsequently, the Egyptian Antiquities Service granted access to other sites as well, among them the important Predynastic cemetery of Hierakonpolis in southern Egypt.

Between 1906 and 1935, the Metropolitan Museum's Egyptian Expedition conducted fourteen seasons of excavations at Lisht. The site includes the Middle Kingdom pyramid complexes of Amenemhat I, the first king of Dynasty 12, and of his son, Senwosret I; a cemetery of officials from Dynasties 12 and 13; and an important Middle Kingdom settlement site. The early excavation teams were led by noted American Egyptologist Albert M. Lythgoe, the first curator of the Department of Egyptian Art. Lythgoe was assisted by his American colleague, Ambrose Lansing, and by Arthur C. Mace, a British Egyptologist. Also at Lisht was Herbert E. Winlock, a young American who was just beginning his career in Egyptology. Among the most important finds from the site are a ritual figure of wood (c. 1929–1878 BC), one of a pair, the second of which is in Cairo; and burial equipment from the tomb of the Lady Senebtisi. It was while working with Mace in this tomb that Winlock developed the careful archaeological methods that made him one of the greatest excavators in the field of Egyptology.

In 1911, after several seasons at Lisht, Herbert Winlock became the primary director of fieldwork at Thebes. He later succeeded Lythgoe as the head of the Department of Egyptian Art, and eventually served as director of the Museum. Winlock conducted excavations in the Dynasty 18 mud-brick palace of Amenhotep III at Malkata, near the southern end of the vast Theban necropolis, but his principal work was done at the temples and cemeteries in the area of Deir el-Bahri. There, in 1920, he discovered a small, untouched chamber in the tomb of the early Middle Kingdom chancellor Meketre (c. 1990 BC). The chamber contained a set of twenty-four painted wooden models of boats, gardens, offering figures, and scenes of food production that are more detailed than any found before or since. Divided between the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, these models are among the most prized possessions of both collections.

Winlock also discovered hundreds of fragments of the smashed statues that had once embellished the funerary temple of Hatshepsut, the great female pharaoh who ruled during Dynasty 18 (c. 1473–1458 BC). Painstakingly reassembled, these statues are some of the great masterpieces now to be found in New York and Cairo.

Over the years the Department of Egyptian Art has been able to acquire, through purchase and bequest, a number of important private collections, including those of Rev. Chauncey Murch (1910), Theodore M. Davis (1915), J. Pierpont Morgan (1917), the Earl of Carnarvon (1926), and Albert Gallatin (1966). Significant gifts have also come from collectors such as Norbert Schimmel (1985), and major purchases have been made possible by benefactors, including Darius Ogden Mills, Helen Miller Gould, Edward S. Harkness, Jacob S. Rogers, and Lila Acheson Wallace, who also funded the reinstallation of the Egyptian galleries that was completed in 1982.

One of the most popular destinations in the Egyptian galleries, and, indeed, in the Museum as a whole, is the Temple of Dendur. Built about 15 BC by the Roman emperor Augustus, who had succeeded Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, the temple was dedicated to the great goddess Isis and to two sons of a local Nubian ruler who had aided the Romans in their wars with the queen of Meroe to the south. Located in Lower Nubia, about fifty miles south of modern Aswan, the temple was dismantled to save it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser after the building of the Aswan High Dam. It was presented to the United States as a gift from the Egyptian government in recognition of the American contribution to the international campaign to save the ancient Nubian monuments.

In addition to interpreting and caring for the permanent collection of ancient Egyptian art, the staff of the Department of Egyptian Art continues to excavate at the Museum's concessions in Egypt, to conduct research in preparation for publication of objects in the collection, and to organize special exhibitions. While many of these are small thematic exhibitions composed of objects from the Museum's collection, the department also organizes loan exhibitions drawn from collections throughout the world. Recent examples of the former are "Textiles of Late Antiquity" (1996), organized with the Departments of Medieval Art and Islamic Art; "An Egyptian Bestiary" (1995); and "Pharaoh's Gifts: Stone Vessels from Ancient Egypt" (1994). Loan exhibitions have included "Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids" (1999), "Nefertiti and the Royal Women" (1996), and "The Gold of Meroe" (1993).
dendur 2Temple of Dendur
c.15 BC, Roman period, Nubia, Dendur

Given to the United States by Egypt in 1965, awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967, and installed in The Sackler Wing in 1978.

Egyptian temples were not simply houses for a cult image but also represented, in their design and decoration, a variety of religious and mythological concepts. One important symbolic aspect was based on the understanding of the temple as an image of the natural world as the Egyptians knew it. Lining the temple base are carvings of papyrus and lotus plants that seem to grow from water, symbolized by figures of the Nile god Hapy. The two columns on the porch rise toward the sky like tall bundles of papyrus stalks with lotus blossoms bound with them. Above the gate and temple entrance are images of the sun disk flanked by the outspread wings of Horus, the sky god. The sky is also represented by the vultures, wings outspread, that appear on the ceiling of the entrance porch.

On the outer walls between earth and sky are carved scenes of the king making offerings to deities, who hold scepters and the symbol of life. The figures are carved in sunk relief. In the brilliant Egyptian sunlight, shadows cast along the figures' edges would have emphasized their outlines. Isis, Osiris, their son Horus, and the other deities are identified by their crowns and the inscriptions beside their figures. These scenes are repeated in two horizontal registers. The king is identified by his regalia and by his names, which appear close to his head in elongated oval shapes called cartouches; many of the cartouches simply read "pharaoh." This king was actually Caesar Augustus of Rome, who, as ruler of Egypt, had himself depicted in the traditional regalia of the pharaoh. Augustus had many temples erected in Egyptian style, honouring Egyptian deities. This small temple, built about 15 BC, honoured the goddess Isis and, beside her, Pedesi and Pihor, deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain.

In the first room of the temple, reliefs again show the "pharaoh" praying and offering to the gods, but the relief here is raised from the background so that the figures can be seen easily in the more indirect light. From this room one can look into the temple past the middle room used for offering ceremonies and into the sanctuary of the goddess Isis. The only carvings in these two rooms are around the door frame leading into the sanctuary and on the back wall of the sanctuary, where a relief depicts Pihor worshiping Isis, and below – partly destroyed – Pedesi worshiping Osiris.

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