Tuesday, May 18, 2010

King Tut!

Small gold coffinette which contained some of the kings organs.
You can see the projections behind it, and get a sense of the theatrical
nature of much of the exhibition. Still a beautiful, masterfully made object.

King Tut is back in New York, not at an art Museum, it has become so commercialized that they are holding the exhibition near Times Square in what they call, "The Discovery Center", which until this exhibition, I had never heard of before. While having fairly modest expectations I felt I had to go, it is a rare opportunity to see things from his tomb. I arrived around 11am, just as all the school kids were arriving in enormous buses. A large crowd was milling about and waiting. It turns out they were being ushered in as groups, and I went and paid my $31. for a ticket. Pretty steep. I then waited as groups were allowed in to pace the crowds in the exhibition. I feared that this did not bode well for my viewing experience, I expected to be jostled and to barely be able to see things at my own pace. Fortunately, once we watched the obligatory silly video about meeting King Tut, once inside, I had no competition for looking as much as I wanted. It turns out that most people are really not interested in looking at things closely, so I could go from piece to piece as I wanted with hardly anyone else looking at them. And it is a treasure trove of major Egyptian artifacts. While there is actually very little from King Tut himself, there are a number of masterpieces from his ancestors. The exhibition putatively attempts to put King Tutankamun in context, with objects from his immediate predecessors. One advantage of an exhibition like this is that it allows one to really see things, that when in Cairo are lost in the huge number of art objects demanding your attention. Unfortunately they did not allow photography, so I had to crib images from the web, and could not get all the ones I wanted. But this will suffice to hopefully induce you to see the exhibit yourself, it is well worth it.

Yellow sandstone head of Nefertiti.

This beautiful head is one of my favorite of the portrait heads of Nefertiti. Incredibly sensuous with the soft polish of the yellow quartzite, it combines a realistic quality with the abstracted perfection of a deity, which is what she became during the Amarna period. Originally the eyebrows and eyes were inlaid, and the hair or headdress finished in another material. This head alone is worth paying the price of admission.

Alabaster container with painted decoration and dyed red ivory details.

This beautiful container has a lion with his tongue lolling out, painted in black with scenes of the king hunting with four negro heads supporting it symbolizing the kings suzerainty over the empire as they portray the traditional enemies of the Egyptians. It is a beautiful, complicated, incredibly well executed object, and once again, you are able to really see it in isolation whereas in Cairo, it competes with the abundant treasures from that tomb.

Coffin of Tjuya, wood covered in gold plate and inlaid with glass and stone.

This coffin belongs to one of the parents of Queen Tiy, the consort of Amenhotep III, one of the greatest rulers Egypt ever had and the grandfather of King Tutankamun. While I have known of this coffin for many years, and even saw it in Cairo, it was so eclisped by King Tut's that I did not really give it the time it deserved. Here in this exhibition, it shines as it deserves to for it is truly beautiful, sublime and masterfully made.

Here is a detail of the face of Tjuya, you can see just how beautiful it is. I was very happy to truly see this great coffin and pay my respects to the one for whom it was made.

Gold covered funeral mask for Tjuya, with traces of fabric which originally wrapped the entire mummy. Again, beautiful in person, here it looks a little silly I know.

Small serpentine head of Queen Tiye.

This small, it is only just over 2 inches tall, head is a masterpiece, not only exquisitely carved with minute detail, it also captures the commanding presence of one of Egyptian histories great personalities, the Chief Queen of Amenhotep III. The daughter of commoners, her father was wealthy landowner who rose to high position during the reign of Amenhotep III. Despite her non royal blood, she nonetheless rose to greatness at her kings side. Almost alone among queens, Tiye is represented on the same gargantuan scale as her husband in many important monuments. No subservient supporting role for her, she appears as the kings equal in many monuments. The 18th Dynasty is notable for its strong women, from Queen Hatshepsut who ruled as Pharaoh herself, to Queen Tiye and Queen Nefertiti.

Alabaster head from one of Tut's canopic jars.

About as fine an image of the King as exists this stopper for a canopic jar is justly famous.

Royal isignia, gold, lapis, carnelian and glass inlays.

The boy kings royal isignia, the Ureaus, with the vulture head symbolizing Nekhbet, and the cobra head and serpent representing Uadhet, the goddesses respectively of Upper and Lower Egypt, the great divide, the two kingdoms united under the rule of the Pharaoh.
This is a remarkable object, I think one of the few to survive from antiquity, the actual royal isignia worn by the king as part of his regalia at important functions. No doubt he had many other crowns, this was sort of an everyday marker of his divine status, worn alone or under another crown. As a child the image of the Ureaus, the two heads, vulture and cobra, looking forward above the face of the king, protecting him from harm, both spiritual and physical. Pretty powerful imagery and magic. Found on the kings head, under all the wrappings and the funerary mask.

Obsidian glass head from a composite statue of King Amenhotep II.
It is about life size, this image is the best I could find online.

Represented in the postage stamp size image above is an object that I have wanted to see for decades, one of the only obsidian heads from Egypt. Like the yellow quartzite head of Nefertiti, this comes from a composite statue, where the face, and exposed skin areas were in precious stones, the crown, body and garments in other materials. Obsidian boulders big enough to make this are not common, and the carving of it is masterful. The surface has a matte finish so it looks almost like wood, only on the break on the side do you see the glassy nature of the material. It is another rarely seen object of absolutely top quality, another reason to see this particular exhibition.

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