Posts Tagged With: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Carnarvon Collection: The Real Drama of Downton Abbey

This Monday, as I sat down for dinner to complete my weekly ritual of watching the Downton Abbey episode from the night before, I thought back on the show, it’s successes and failures, and one of its most unfortunate casualties.

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courtesy of PBS

 

Sweet Isis, the beloved family Labrador named after the Egyptian Goddess, who was ‘killed off’ the show when the terrorist group began to make headlines.  While I won’t get into the politics of the decision, what is important to acknowledge is that Downton Abbey has a connection to Ancient Egypt that goes far beyond the name of the Crawley family’s unfortunate hound.

 

 

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courtesy of Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, home to the fictional Crawley family, was (and is) the real-life abode of the Herbert family, the Earls of Carnarvon. The Herberts include in their ranks a man who was involved in the discovery of one of the greatest Egyptian treasures—the tomb of King Tutankhamen. In 1922, the fifth earl of Carnarvon sponsored archaeologist and friend Howard Carter in his exploration of the Valley of the Kings, never imagining they would uncover the final resting place of one of the most illustrious Egyptian pharaohs in Egypt’s history.

 

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Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. Courtesy of Highclere 

 

 

George Herbert, Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, first travelled to Egypt in 1898. From 1906 on he spent many winters in Egypt, and collected numerous artifacts 16 years spent near Luxor in the Valley of the Queens, the Valley of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and in the Nile Delta near Alexandria. His collection served as a trophy of his great adventures, but upon his death in 1923, his widow was forced to part with it to pay for death costs. After being catalogued by Howard Carter, the collection was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Carter leaving the “unimportant, less impressive” artifacts at Highclere.

 

 

 

 

 

Fast forward almost 70 years, and these “less impressive” artifacts reemerge when an aged butler reveals a secret panel covering a cache hidden in the walls of one of the estate’s lesser-used rooms. Behind these panels were scarabs and wood pieces, even a minature axe head was discovered stuck to the windowsill. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves agrees that the found objects are “less impressive” than other Carnarvon artifacts, Reeves believes they hold importance elsewhere. In fact, they are the only known group excavated from the tomb of Amenhotep III.  Now some of these 300 Egyptian pieces from excavations of various sites at Thebes and Tel Balamun, are on exhibit as well as the castle’s Reynolds and Van Dyck paintings, French furniture and beautifully renovated, silk-lined rooms.

 

As I watched this week’s episode, it was an emotional rollercoaster (It’s the final season…I’m not handling it well,) but nothing brought more joy that when Robert received a gift from the Dowager Countess, Queen Maggie Smith.

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Courtesy of PBS

 

 

A new puppy! Overcome with joy, Robert immediately decides to name her Tia’a. Confused, daughter Edith exclaims. “I thought we always had names from ancient Egypt.” Robert replies “Tia’a was a wife of Amenhotep II and the mother of Thutmose IV. Don’t you know anything?”

Ahhhh…that blissful moment when they actually get the history right. Thank you, Downton Abbey writers, thank you.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/21/travel/stately-home-with-a-trove-from-egypt.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/egyptian-exhibition

http://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/antiquities-collection

 

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A Saturday at the Met

After a long hiatus, Stories My Mummy Told Me is back! So many amazing things have happened since May 2014 began, from graduation to moving to New York City to beginning my fantastic internship! I have definitely been caught up in a whirlwind of beautiful chaos. 

My move to New York City for graduate school has brought many blessings into my life, but one of the most outwardly remarkable is the fact that I am surrounded by legendary artworks and treasure-filled museums wherever I go. During my first visit to NYC, I became enamored with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s immense Egyptian collection (which I wandered through for over 3 hours!). Being able to visit it on a regular basis, as well as see the other fantastic Met collections, is a true joy. 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which includes its Main Building on Fifth Avenue and the Cloisters and museum gardens, dates back to 1866. The formation of the museum began in Paris, when a group of Americans agreed to create a “national institution and gallery of art” to bring art and art education to the American people. (metmuseum.org)

 

Image (courtesy of metmuseum.org)

 

On April 13, 1870, The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened to the public in the Dodworth Building at 681 Fifth Avenue, and in November acquired a Roman sarcophagus as its first object. In 1871, one hundred and seventy four European paintings were added to the collection, and from then on, the museum experienced massive growth. In March of 1880, the museum moved to its present day location on Fifth Avenue and 82nd street: a two million square foot building incorporating over two million objects, with thousands seen every day.

 

Focusing on the art of ancient Egypt, that collection includes around 26,000 objects dating from the Paleolithic era to the Roman period in Egyptian history (ca. 300,000 B.C.E.-400 C.E.).

For the most part, the collection was amassed during the Museum’s thirty-five years of archaeological work in Egypt. Beginning in 1906, the Metropolitan Museum set out on its Egyptian Expedition, conducting over 14 season of excavation at Lisht until the year 1935. At Lisht, the expedition explored areas such as the pyramid complexes of Amenemhat I and Senwosret I, a cemetery of Dynasty 12 and 13 officials, and an important Middle Kingdom settlement site.  Further excavation work was completed at the palace of Amenhotep II at Malqata, and the temples and cemeteries around Deir el-Bahri. The expedition uncovered many impressive finds, such as ritual figures in wood, the untouched chamber in the tomb of Meketre, and statue fragments from the funerary temple of Hatshepsut!

The collection is also comprised of multiple private collections, including those of Chauncey Murch, Theodore M. Davis, J. Pierpont Morgan, and the well-known Earl of Carnarvon (whose home is showcased in PBS’ Downton Abbey!).

 

Image (courtesy of metmuseum.org)

One of the most intriguing and interactive aspects of the Egyptian Gallery is the Temple of Dendur, located in the Sackler Wing.  Rich with pharaonic and religious images, the Temple of Dendur was built around 15 B.C.E. by the Roman emperor Augustus, as a dedication to Isis and two Nubians who had aided the Romans in their military conquests. The temple was originally located in Lower Nubia, but had to be dismantled and relocated as protection from rising waters after the construction of the Aswan Dam. The Egyptian government presented it to the United States as a gift, recognizing America’s contribution to the preservation of Nubian monuments, and the temple was bestowed upon the Metropolitan Museum two years later, in 1967.

One of my favorite pieces is slightly smaller in scale:  a damaged Head of a King, Possibly Seankhkare Mentuhotep III.

 Image ( courtesy of metmuseum.org)

 

Although there is no clear text identifying the piece, features of this head can be matched with a relief from Armant housed in the Brooklyn Museum which is inscribed for King Seankhkare Mentuhotep III, son of the great Mentuhotep II (known for his architectural feats, and attributed with the construction of the temple atop Thoth Hill, the highest point overlooking the Valley of the Kings). This particular portrait is created in the Old Kingdom “Second Style” and clearly shows abstract ears and almond, slanting eyes. However, the cheek outline and softly rounded shaping of the face offer life to the stylized image. Why do I like it so much? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. There are so many well-preserved pieces of Egyptian sculpture, so many other, more beautiful interpretations; but when I saw this for the first time—during that first visit, it immediately drew me in.

There are so many treasures hidden in this museum collection, from the small faience scarabs to the mummies themselves, no blog posting could ever do them justice. So please, in the name of all that is good in this world, take an afternoon (or entire day) and spend it with the beautiful art at the Metropolitan Museum. Who knows what you will find?

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Resources:

http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/museum-departments/curatorial-departments/egyptian-art

http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/547802

http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/545879?rpp=30&pg=2&ft=head&where=Egypt&pos=39

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