Science

Egypt: 5 museums where you can discover pharaonic treasures

The Louvre (Paris)

Created in 1826, the department of Egyptian Antiquities had Champollion, the discoverer of hieroglyphics, as its first curator. Sarcophagi, papyrus, stelae, bronzes … 50,000 works are gathered there for Pharaonic Egypt, about 4,500 for Roman Egypt and 13,000 for the Coptic section. The most famous are the crouching Scribe (actually sitting cross-legged) with a hypnotic gaze discovered in 1850 by the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette in a mastaba of Saqqarah (4th or 5th dynasty), the stele of King Serpent (Abydos, 1st dynasty) or the hippopotamus in bright blue earthenware, covered with stylized aquatic plants painted in black – such figurines were placed in the tombs of high officials at the end of the Middle Kingdom. Among the perfectly preserved pieces, the funerary ensemble of Tamoutnéfret is characteristic of the beginning of the Ramesside period, in particular of the 19th dynasty (New Kingdom, c. 1295 – 1186). It was probably brought back by Champollion in 1830. On the lids of the two coffins, the deceased – “mistress of the house” and “singer of Amun”, according to the inscriptions on her legs – is represented arms crossed on the chest, in the posture of Osiris, the god presiding over the judgment of the dead, mummified. The gilding that covers her hands, her face and her neck also evokes the flesh of the gods. A representation of Nut, goddess of the sky, adorns the waist of the young woman, her winged arms spread out to protect her. Likewise, the geniuses and divinities who decorate the funeral complex are supposed to guarantee Tamoutnefret a safe journey into the afterlife.

For more information: www.louvre.fr/departments/antiquités-égyptiennes

ollion, the discoverer of hieroglyphics, as the first curator. Sarcophagi, papyrus, stelae, bronzes … 50,000 works are gathered there for Pharaonic Egypt, about 4,500 for Roman Egypt and 13,000 for the Coptic section. The most famous are the crouching Scribe (actually sitting cross-legged) with a hypnotic gaze discovered in 1850 by the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette in a mastaba of Saqqarah (4th or 5th dynasty), the stele of King Serpent (Abydos, 1st dynasty) or the hippopotamus in bright blue earthenware, covered with stylized aquatic plants painted in black – such figurines were placed in the tombs of high officials at the end of the Middle Kingdom. Among the perfectly preserved pieces, the funerary ensemble of Tamoutnéfret is characteristic of the beginning of the Ramesside period, in particular of the 19th dynasty (New Kingdom, c. 1295 – 1186). It was probably brought back by Champollion in 1830. On the lids of the two coffins, the deceased – “mistress of the house” and “singer of Amun”, according to the inscriptions on her legs – is represented arms crossed on the chest, in the posture of Osiris, the god presiding over the judgment of the dead, mummified. The gilding that covers her hands, her face and her neck also evokes the flesh of the gods. A representation of Nut, goddess of the sky, adorns the waist of the young woman, her winged arms spread out to protect her. Likewise, the geniuses and divinities who decorate the funeral complex are supposed to guarantee Tamoutnefret a safe journey into the afterlife.

For more information: www.louvre.fr/departments/antiquités-égyptiennes

Museo Egizio (Turin)

The first museum entirely devoted to the culture of ancient Egypt (1824), the Museo Egizio contains more than 30,000 pieces, including the oldest known copy of the Book of the Dead as well as the Turin papyri. It also houses the temple of Ellesiya built by Thutmose III in Nubia (1430 BC), which was saved during the construction of the Aswan Dam. Director of the museum from 1894 until his death in 1928, Ernesto Schiaparelli unearthed several magnificent tombs. That of Khâ – architect of Amenhotep III – and his wife Mérit is the jewel of the collection. Lively and colorful, the painted decorations of the tomb of Iti and his wife Néferou (New Kingdom) represent scenes from daily life where peasants, sailors and scribes rub shoulders with gazelles, antelopes, donkeys, cows or monkeys.

For more information: www.museoegizio.it

British Museum and Petrie Museum (London)

After the Cairo Museum, the British Museum houses the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the world, including the predynastic mummies of Gebelein, a fragment of beard from the Sphinx of Giza (4th Dynasty) and the famous Rosetta Stone (196 BC). AD), at the origin of the deciphering of hieroglyphics by Champollion. The 11 murals which decorated the tomb of the scribe Nebamon (circa 1350 BC) constitute one of the treasures of the museum. Animated and detailed, they represent idealized moments in the life of the deceased, including a hunt in swamps populated by birds and a family banquet where women dance and play the flute. Scenes which testify to the hope of the official to continue this pleasant existence in the other world … A stone’s throw from the British Museum, the Petrie museum houses an important collection of portraits of Fayoum (1st and 2nd centuries). , which were inserted in the strips of the mummies.

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Neues Museum (Berlin)

Visible in the Neues Museum, the collections of the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung cover four millennia of Egyptian history. One can see, among others, the “green head” of unknown provenance (4th century BC), a sculpture of great expressiveness, as well as a rich set of sarcophagi and papyri. But the museum owes its fame to its collection of treasures in Amarna, the capital of King Akhenaten (c. 1353 – 1337). Among them, the polychrome bust of his wife, Queen Nefertiti; the head in yew, acacia and gold of his mother, Queen Tiyi; and the limestone stele immortalizing the bride and groom, flooded with the divine light of Aten, and three of their daughters. The style of this stone is emblematic of Amarnian art: outrageous features (elongated skulls, curved and pleated necks), generous shapes (voluptuous hips for the wife, small belly for the king), insistence on movement (floating ribbons) and sense of perspective.

For more information: www.smb.museum/en/museums-institutions/neues-museum/home.html

Egyptian Museum (Cairo)

For more than a century, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has housed the largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world (more than 160,000 pieces). His emblematic piece, the death mask of Tutankhamun, recently joined the Great Egyptian Museum (Gem) where the other works of the king’s collection had already been transferred. In their place are exhibited 214 very well preserved pieces: the treasures of Yuya and Touya, discovered in 1905 in their tomb in the Valley of the Kings (Luxor). Youya, director of the royal stables and priest of Min, and his wife Touya, singer of Amun, had the privilege of being buried in the necropolis of the sovereigns, as parents of Queen Tiyi, great wife of Amenhotep III ( 1391 – 1353). Among their treasures: the anthropmorphic coffins containing their mummy, their golden mask with eyes underlined in blue, funerary furniture including the Yuya chariot, or the Yuya papyrus (20 meters long!) In which are inscribed chapters from the Book of dead.

Pages created by Laureen Bouyssou

This article is from the special issue of Science and the Future “Egypt: the invention of eternity”, published in April 2019.

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