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Friday, November 8, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog

Monday, 4 November 2019

Statues and Tomb Models of the Middle Kingdom

The blog post for this week is written by Molly Osborne, a previous contributor who is an Undergraduate student and Egypt Centre volunteer.

My first handling session was during a module in my second year, where I wrote a research project about an object in the House of Life. Ever since, I have loved learning about the stories of the artefacts in the Egypt Centre. This week, we were learning about the history and civilisation of the Middle Kingdom, with six objects from that time period selected. During the session I found out that almost all the objects were stone statues or statuettes. The Middle Kingdom was known to be one of the great glory periods of Egyptian history, a classical period of literature and art, as can be seen from the objects chosen this week. We could see that there was a standardised style of artwork on most of the objects we handled.

Fig. 1: Statue of a man (W845)

The first objects I handled were two broken heads from statuettes, which are made of steatite. One of them (W845) depicts a figure of a man with his hand underneath his cloak, who may have originally been seated or standing (fig. 1). As this figure may have been seated, I think this man was most probably a high official or worked as a scribe. The other (W842) is identified as a female figure because of the "Hathor wig", which is a typical style of the period (fig. 2).

W.842: Statue of a woman (W845)

The heaviest object was a huge plaster cast replica of a statue in the British Museum (BM EA 24385), which depicts the Royal Scribe and Chancellor, Senebtyty (W1012). He is shown (fig. 3) wearing a piece of clothing that looks a bit like a towel, a dress which is typical of the Middle Kingdom (Robins 1997, fig 128). There are hieroglyphs on the base and on the back pillar, which were also common on many Egyptian statues. An interesting thing I learnt was that if Henry Wellcome was not able to buy an object, he bought or commissioned replicas like this one.

Fig. 3: Cast of a statue of Senebtyfy (W1012)

W847 is a siltstone, funerary statue of an unknown couple (fig. 4), which perhaps comes from the tombs at Aswan. This statue may depict and belong to the person who was buried, with the deceased being either the man or the woman. Unfortunately, there is no inscription on the object, so we do not know who this object depicts. The standardised artwork mentioned previously is noticeable on all the objects I have mentioned so far. They all have big ears and a slight smile, which was typical of the late Middle Kingdom. The wide eyes look like the archaic style of ancient Greece, which was copied from the Egyptians. W847 and W1012 also have huge hands and feet, which are not in proportion with the rest of the body.

Fig. 4: Pair statue (W847)

There were two objects which were not made of stone. One was a wooden tomb model (W434) and the other was a wooden goose (W588), which are normally on display in the House of Death gallery. The wooden tomb figure (fig. 5) was used in a funerary context and has a moveable arm, just like a modern-day doll. It is possible that this figure represents the tomb owner, although another suggestion is that it was part of a large group and it would have been the overseer or someone else of authority. This idea came from the positioning of the feet (the left foot is in front of the right foot) and the fact that it would have held a staff in his hand.

Fig. 5: Tomb model (W434)

The wooden goose (fig. 6) was by far my favourite object from this week. It has long been suggested that W588 is a fake, mainly because its base is modern. However, the object was purchased from the collection of William MacGregor (lot 576), with the catalogue stating that it came from Arab el-Birk, near Asyut. There are the remains of a possible dowel on the top of the goose, which suggests that it may have been hung and held by a big servant figure.

Fig. 6: Model goose (W588)

This course has been very interesting and I would like to thank Ken Griffin and the Egypt Centre for offering them. It's been an awesome experience!

Bourriau, J. (1988) Pharaohs and mortals: Egyptian art in the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Grajetzki, W. (2006) The Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt: history, archaeology and society. Duckworth Egyptology. London: Duckworth.
Oppenheim, A., D. Arnold, D. Arnold, and K. Yamamoto eds. (2015) Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Robins, G. (1997) The art of ancient Egypt. London: The British Museum Press.
Sotheby, W. H. (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
Tooley, A. (1995) Egyptian models and scenes. Shire Egyptology 22. Risborough: Shire Publications. 
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