The reopening of our Ptolemaic galleries after their renovation is a good opportunity to reflect on Nesmin, whose mummy and coffin are now back on display. Modern medical technology and analysis of the inscriptions on his coffin can bring this individual, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, closer to us.
On view in the newly renovated Ptolemaic galleries is a graceful, broken-off upper part of what is known as a Hathor column, inscribed with the names of Nectanebo I, who reigned from 380 to 362 B.C., that is, 30 years before the beginning of the Ptolemaic Period. According to the information passed on about its findspot at the time of its purchase in 1928, the column originates in the Delta in Egypt, although no specific location was given.
In preparation for the renovation of the Ptolemaic galleries of Egyptian art, riggers and technicians deinstalled one of the most-viewed objects at The Met, the Book of the Dead of the Priest of Horus, Imhotep, and its companion, Papyrus inscribed with six "Osiris Liturgies". The two scrolls are housed in eight framed sections, measuring around 100 feet in total length, in gallery 133. For the staff of the Department of Egyptian Art and myself, an associate paper conservator, this step represented the start of the second phase of the refurbishment of the scrolls' display.
Our complete Book of the Dead, inscribed for a priest named Imhotep, is one of the highlights of our newly renovated Ptolemaic display. Measuring over 70 feet long, it stretches the entire length of galleries 133 and 134. When I pass through this corridor, I often find a knot of people clustered around the Weighing of the Heart scene, in which Imhotep comes before the ruler of the Netherworld, Osiris, and is either deemed worthy of joining the eternal company of the blessed dead or fails the test and dies forever. Several years ago, I was asked to take on the task of crafting new didactic material for this papyrus, as well as for a second, shorter one belonging to the same man. The papyri were purchased in Cairo in 1923 on behalf of one of our great benefactors, Edward Harkness, who lent them to the department until 1935, when they became part of our permanent collection.
After many years of study and planning and a yearlong closure for construction and transfer, the new installation of galleries 133 and 134 for Egyptian Ptolemaic art opened today. In them, beloved objects that occupied the old arrangement for 40 years—including the small head of Queen Arsinoe II, a wonderful owl plaque, the Book of the Dead of Imhotep, and many other intense and delicate creations of Egyptian culture at the time it converged with equally vital Greek culture—return to fresh, attentive display.