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: A Notable Gift of Egyptian Antiquities


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
A gift of the most gratifying kind has recently been made to the Institute by Mr. Edward S. Harkness of New York City. It consists of a distinguished and valuable group of Egyptian antiquities ranging from two pre-dynastic vases to a group of bronze libation buckets of the late Dynastic and Ptolemaic periods.To the officers and trustees of the Society it is particularly welcome not only for the value and beauty of the objects, which are exceptionally fine, but because it evidences the interest of an outsider in a young and growing museum. Mr. Harkness is a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum, and it is to his keen interest and support that America's continued participation in Egyptian excavations has been made possible. His gift to the Institute is not only a gesture of friendship but a recognition of the endeavors and the needs of a western museum.The group consists of twenty separate objects, which may be grouped as follows:Two pottery cases of pre-Dynastic period (circa 4000-3400 B.C.)A bronze ewer of the Old Kingdom (2980-2475 B.C.)A blue faience doll of the XII Dynasty (2000-1788 B.C.)A group of funerary jewelry, consisting of a "broad collar" of faience, two strings of spherical gold beads, one large and one small, of the Middle Kingdom (2160-1700 B.C.)A limestone statuettes of the Chamberlain of Amon, Nefer-hotep, of the Middle XVIII Dynasty (circa 1450 B.C.)An alabaster vase, with inscription, of the XVIII DynastyA limestone relief, of the XIX Dynasty (1350-1205 B.C.)The head of a statuettes of Thoueris in haematite, of the XXVI Dynasty (663-525 B.C.)A bronze figure of a kneeling king, of the XXVI DynastyA bronze mirror, with wooden handle, of the Late Dynastic period (circa 600-300 B.C.)Three spoons or ladles of bronze, of the Late Dynastic period (circa 600-200 B.C.)A bronze bowl, of the same periodTwo libation buckets of bronze of the Late Dynastic period, and one of the Ptolemaic periodBefore undertaking a more detailed description of these objects, it might not be out of place to note how remarkably well they represent the entire range of Egyptian art and craft throughout its whole line of development. From the prehistoric races that inhabited the Nile valley and buried their dead with such pottery vases as these, through the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom, the XVIII Dynasty, the Saite period and the Late Dynastic periods, we find objects from all the chief eras of best artistic activity in Egypt. Their variety, moreover, is considerable, and, within their range of size, they represent practically all classes of objects which received artistic treatment: jewelry, bowls, ceremonial vases, sculptured reliefs, statuettes and household articles, all on a variety of materials.The two pottery vases of the pre-Dynastic period are of what is known as the red-line type, with geometrical patterns in terra cotta or brownish red. Although we have no documentary records of these early Egyptian races, we know that they possessed many of the essential elements of civilization and were skilled in many of the principal arts. Besides pottery, they had a knowledge of weaving and were able to manufacture cloths of linen.Of the Old Kingdom, the Harkness gift contains a bronze ewer such as was used in a III, IV, or V Dynasty household. Metal work is rare before this era, but the slim literary evidence tells us that by this time better equipped expeditions were being sent to work the copper mines in Sinai. This period also produced monuments that were never surpassed in later Egyptian history: the royal tombs in the form of pyramids at Memphis, Giza, Abusir and Sakkara, and the great mortuary temples.Between the VII and the XI Dynasties came an intermediate period of about 300 years between the fall of the Old and the beginning of the Middle Kingdoms. The kings began to lose their absolute sway, and the official classes rose to power in their stead. This resulted in decentralization of control and a resultant disintegration in the impulse to create important or lasting monuments. It was the darkest period of Egypt's history.The XI Dynasty kings, however, centralized governmental control again, and by the time of Amenemhat, first king of the XII Dynasty, Egypt was again united. Prosperity once more gave the artist an opportunity to mature his powers. Of this period the Harkness gift provides a blue faience doll, which should perhaps better be considered a "dancing girl" than a doll, and a striking set of funerary jewelry.This set consists of a "broad collar" of blue faience beads, a string of hollow gold beads, each about an inch in diameter, originally filled with gesso, and a second string of small gold beads. According to Mr. Ambrose Lansing, Curator of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum, under whose supervision these objects were reassembled, the "broad collar" and the larger gold necklace are extraordinarily large examples of Middle Kingdom jewelry.After two hundred years of vigorous life, the XII Dynasty seems to have burned itself out, and foreign invasion by the Hyksos, or "shepherd kings" brought another dark period of disorganization, even anarchy. About 1500 B.C., however, there came another renaissance which carries us from the XVIII through the XXI Dynasties. Of this long period of nearly six hundred years, the Institute's new accession provides three objects of great interest: a painted limestone statuette of Nefer-hotep, Chamberlain of Amon, an inscribed alabaster vase, and a limestone relief of the XIX Dynasty.The statuette, about fourteen inches high, shows Nefer-hotep kneeling in an attitude of adoration. On the stela before him is the following hymn to Amon as sun-god: "Giving praise to Amon, doing obeisance (lit. 'kissing the ground') to the lord of gods by the Chamberlain of Amon, Nefer-hotep. He says, 'Hail to thee, lord of Karnak, Amon, chief of the nine gods, who doest benefactions for every man (lit. 'every face'); lord of life, illuminating men, gods and goddesses, self-existing! Grant thou that my eyes (lit. 'face') may be opened at the sight of thy beauty, at thy glorious appearance on the horizon of the sky, that I may breathe the breath which thou givest (the remainder of the inscription is on the base of the statue) to me and that I may live upon thy food gifts."The alabaster vase, in perfect condition, is inscribed with the various named of Thutmose III, and contains a resinous substance, one of the "sacred oils" belonging to a full set of funerary paraphernalia.The limestone relief represents the god Horus wearing the double crown. The inscription reads: "The Beautiful Horus, the Great God, Lord of the Sky in Bahet." This relief is from a temple—perhaps the temple of Ramses II in Abydos.Egyptian art had now run the gamut from the primitive to the sophisticated, from the stylized to the highly realistic. The rest, until the final disintegration after the Roman invasion in 30 B.C., was merely repetition and adaptation. However, the period of the Saite monarchs in the XXVI Dynasty saw a remarkable revival of the arts and of learning. The Harkness gift includes a head of a small statuette of Thoueris in haematite, an extremely fine example of the small sculpture of this period.The other items of the gift fall into the remaining periods of decline and of foreign influence. There is a mirror consisting of a gilded bronze disk with a wooden handle, three spoons or ladles of bronze, on which a good deal of the original gilding remains. The handles end, as is usual, in ducks' heads. A shallow bronze bowl and three libation buckets, one of them gold plated, complete the list. The larger of the two bronze buckets also shows some of the original gold plating, and bears the name of the donor, or owner, who appears to have been Iset-ir-edise (a name corresponding to the later Greek Isadora), daughter of Psametik. The inscription around the rim of the gold plated Ptolemaic bucket shows the donor, or owner, to have been one Usat-Hor, son of Ped-Osiris.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Kneeling King. XXVI Dynasty. Six and one quarter inches high.
  2. Group of funerary jewelry, XII Dynasty
  3. Limestone relief of the XIX Dynasty
  4. Alabaster vase of the XVIII Dynasty
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Source: "A Notable Gift of Egyptian Antiquities," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 17, no. 5 (February, 1928): 22-24.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009