martes, 4 de noviembre de 2014

Carved face from a sarcophagus, Dyn. 18

Egypt, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18
1570 BC–1293 BC
Wood (undetermined)
20cm. (7.8 in.) -
This face carving was crafted as part of a sarcophagus lid. The wood was carved, then gessoed and painted. The still visible tenons and tenon holes once fastened it to the rest of the sarcophagus lid assembly, now missing.

The dimensions, construction, color scheme, and general style is similar to that of the more complete sarcophagus lid catalogued in this collection under number 646.

Sarcophagus is a Greek term used in Egyptology to designate a container made to protect a mummified body (the term literally means “body eater”). Although we are guilty here of using the term loosely, the generally accepted convention today is to use ‘sarcophagus’ for a stone container, and ‘coffin’ for a wooden or metal container.

Initially, Egyptian coffins were rectangular (sometimes with arched tops). They were decorated with symbolically charged motifs and ritual texts. Around Dynasty 12 (Middle Kingdom) appeared the first anthropomorphic coffins, which followed the general shape of the human body. By the New Kingdom, royal burial sets had become very elaborate: “The mummy. . . lay in three mummiform coffins; the innermost is made of solid gold, and the other two of wood covered with sheet gold. . . [the] set of anthropomorphic coffins was laid into a rectangular or cartouche-shaped sarcophagus, which in turn was surrounded by several chapel-like wooden structures. . .” (Redford 2001:[1]283).

Dynasty 18
In many ways, Dynasty 18 could be viewed as the golden age of the Egyptian Civilization. Spanning almost 280 years (1570-1293 BC), it ushered in the New Kingdom by a return to a powerful, monolithic Egyptian nation unified by a heavily centralized government under the undivided control of the king.

Egypt’s dominions expanded to include territory rife with natural resources; this wealth of resources fueled Egypt’s economy to unprecedented levels; the economic activity prompted the development of international trade and diplomacy; cultural and technological exchanges, together with spreading wealth, yielded a blossoming of the arts, and a widespread refinement of the Egyptian culture.

It would be unfair, if not untrue, to suggest that the achievements of Dynasty 18 were greater than those of, say, Dynasty 12 in the Middle Kingdom, or Dynasty 3 in the Old Kingdom. But the sheer volume of exquisite material goods produced and preserved from that period, the tantalizing political intrigues and mysteries of its controversial monarchs (such as Queen Hatshepsut and King Akhenaten), and the comparatively extensive written record (both from within and without Egypt), cannot help but make Egypt’s Dynasty 18 a most fascinating period of human history.

Founded by King Ahmose, who reclaimed the Delta from the Hyksos, Dynasty 18 saw some of the most enlightened monarchs of Egypt’s history. Blending the unwavering projection of military power with the development of social policies and the shepherding of culture, they left an indelible mark on their civilization. After a long period of prosperity and stability under a succession of kings named Tuthmosis and Amenhotep (and the great queen Hatshepsut), the dynasty stumbled when Amenhotep IV attempted to change just about everything about Egyptian culture: under his new name Akhenaten, he left the old capital and built a new one, abandoned Egypt’s traditional gods and created a new monotheistic cult, abandoned Egypt’s established artistic conventions and fostered a new, disturbingly realistic, aesthetic canon. Too much, too fast, Akhenaten’s reforms were soon undone. His capital was abandoned, his monuments destroyed, and records of his reign meticulously expunged. Turning a new page, his successor Tutankhaten soon changed his name to Tutankhamun. The Dynasty never regained its luster, and soon made way for a new line of rulers emerging from the ranks of the military: the Ramessids.

Bibliography (for this item)

Michalowski, Kazimierz
1968 L’art de l’ancienne Egypte. Editions d’art Lucien Mazenod, Paris, France.

Bibliography (on Sarcophagus)

Redford, Donald B.
2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, London. (283)

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