The Art and Culture of Egypt:
4000 B.C.-6th century A.D.
Ground floor, rooms 81-91
Room 81. The relics of the ancient period of Egyptian culture in the
museum include some Palaeolithic chisels of the fifth millennium B.C.,
and also earthenware vessels, flint tools and stone palettes for triturating
paint dating back to the fourth millennium B.C. (case 1). Belonging to
the same period is an interesting group of objects found in 1961 and 1962
by the Nubian archaeological expedition of the Soviet Academy of Sci-
ences at the Khordaud site, one hundred and twenty kilometres south
of Aswan (see the vessels, the mortar for pounding grain, palm fruits,
the shells of ostrich eggs with geometric patterns, ceramic beads and
the ivory bracelet in case 2).
During the period of the Old Kingdom (3000-2400 B.C.) colossal
edifices were built, such as the tombs of the Pharaohs-the pyramids-
and the tombs of the nobility, upon the walls of which reliefs were carved.
One such relief, dating back to between 2500 and 2400, came from the
tomb of the high-ranking dignitary Nimaatra. Arranged in rows, the
multifigured composition portrays a great nobleman sitting in front of an
altar and making an offering. The monumental quality, the immobility
and the symmetry, typical of the sculpture of the Old Kingdom, are also
clearly evident in a sculptural group made of painted limestone portraying
the nobleman Wejankhdjes with his wife Inefertef.
Room 82. The Middle Kingdom (2100-1788) is represented in
the exhibition by a number of excellent relics. Note particularly the
powerfully impressive statue of black granite representing Pharaoh
Amenemhat III which dates from the nineteenth century B.C. The
standard immobility of the figure is combined with an expressive render-
ing of the features and the body muscles. The painted wooden statuettes
of servants, oarsmen and ploughmen are remarkable for the great variety
of the poses (cases 20 and 22); such ushabti-figuKs were, according to
custom, put into the tombs so that even in the life beyond the grave the
servants and slaves could carry out the orders of the nobility.
The Egyptians invented a material for writing-papyrus, made from
the stems of bulrushes growing in the Nile. In the exhibition there is a
world-famous example of Egyptian secular literature, a papyrus dating
back to the nineteenth century B.C. entitled The Tale of the Shipwrecked
Sailor, and also two papyri from the sixteenth century B.C. copied from
more ancient manuscripts- The Instructions of the Pharaoh to His Son
Merikare and The Prophecy ofNeferti. The first of these contains instruc-
tions given to the young emperor concerning the way in which he should
govern the nation. The second tells of the rebellion started in Egypt by
peasants, craftsmen and slaves about four thousand years ago. A valuable
written document from the nineteenth century B.C. has been preserved
on the lid of a coffin, in which lay the body of an Egyptian girl; upon the
lid is one of the most ancient scripts, the seventeenth chapter of the Book
of the Dead, a collection of spells for recitation in tombs.
Rooms 83 and 84. The New Empire (1580-1050 B.C.). A bronze
dagger blade belonging to Pharaoh Thothmosis III, part of a cuneiform
tablet bearing the text of the peace treaty between the Egyptians and the
Hittites and a relief portraying an Asiatic man bringing tribute (room
84), all remind us of the frequent wars due to which the New Empire
obtained slaves and valuable booty. Several cases contain articles de-
monstrating aspects of everyday life among the Egyptian nobility-musi-
cal instruments, dice, vessels for wine and incense, bronze mirrors,
necklaces, bracelets made of faience and glass, metal ornaments inlaid
with gold, semiprecious stones and faience, and miniature figures of
animals and scarabs carved from stone. An inscription on one of these
states that Amonhotep III during ten years' rule killed one hundred and
two lions while hunting. The monumental sculpture of the New Empire
is represented by a statue of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet (1500-
1400 B.C.) from the temple of the goddess Mut at Thebes, and by a
sculptural group from the fourteenth century B.C. depicting the chief
scribe-the Theban ruler Amenemheb, his wife and mother (granite).
Room 85. In the art of the Last Period (1050-332 B.C.) small
bronze sculptures inlaid with gold and silver became very widespread
(see, for example, the bronze statuettes in cases 111 and 118).
Rooms 86 and 87. The burial cult of ancient Egypt is illustrated by
a number of sarcophagi made of granite and of painted wood, mummies,
and the so-called Canopic jars for preserving the viscera of the dead.
Room 87 contains a tablet with funeral prayers for the repose of the
deceased's soul, which for a poor man took the place of a sarcophagus.
The tablet was attached to the corpse, which was then wrapped in mat-
ting and buried in an outlying part of the cemetery. The bodies of Egyp-
tians of high birth were embalmed. For this purpose, as the authors of
antiquity tell us, the body, after the brain and internal organs had been
removed, was covered with different salts, saturated in balm, wound in
a swathing of linen and then laid in the sarcophagus. Displayed in the
centre of the room is the mummy of the priest Petese (tenth century
B.C.) and three sarcophagi successively inserted into one another. In
them lay the mummy just mentioned. It was opened some years ago,
at which time many thin linen bandages in a good state of preservation
were removed. Also displayed in room 87 is the swaddled mummy of
Babat, the daughter of the priest, and the embalmed mummies of fal-
cons and a cat, regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt.
In the last rooms of the exhibition, which are devoted to the culture
of so-called Graeco-Roman Egypt and of the Coptic period, fragments of
some Fayum portraits of the second century A.D. deserve particular
attention. At the end of the last century some half-plundered tombs were
accidentally found by Arabs in the Fayum oasis; instead of the masks
customary in Egyptian burial rites, upon the mummy-cases lay
portraits painted in encaustic on canvas or on wood, remarkable for
their unusual expressiveness. The exhibition concludes with the world-
famous collection of the fourth to sixth century Coptic fabrics of linen,
wool and silk.