Art and Time
The inscription on this obelisk mentions a man named Titus Sextius Africanus, Prefect of Egypt in 59 AD. We don’t know exactly where it was placed in the ancient city of Rome, but we do know that it was part of the collection of Cardinal Albani and exhibited in his villa in Rome around 1775, and that the sculptor Paolo Cavaceppit “restored” the missing top and bottom edges of the middle block. Unfortunately, the hieroglyphs in his patches make no sense.
At this media station, visitors can actively “manipulate” the course of time by turning the various gears: using the keywords for the periods of Egyptian history, they can discover the historical developments for that period, learn about the main aspects of the art and from there go one to the objects in the museum that illustrate it best: a compact course in Egyptian Art History.
With the rise of Egypt as a world power during the New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20, 1550-1075 BC), a new type of representative art appeared in the form of colossal statues and large-format divine statues as well as in tomb and temple reliefs. After a beginning phase of idealised royal imagery, the more individualised portrait gained popularity again for a while. Then towards the end of the New Kingdom, the slow dissolution of the State’s integrity through a series of strikes and economic crises fossilised art into purely idealised images.
The “Golden Age” of the Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 11-13, 2040-1780 BC) became the ideal to which the following periods aspired, especially in the areas of art and literature. Art production wasn’t concentrated around the royal court; provincial styles started to appear in Middle and Upper Egypt, the expressive portraits of old age first originated.
Once visitors have learned the basics of Ancient Egyptian art in the first exhibition hall, they can continue on to the second hall, the largest in the museum, which offers a chronological overview of the history of Egyptian art. After a short introduction – the art of the Pre- and Early Dynastic Period – the exhibition guides the visitor through all the periods of Egyptian history up until the Graeco-Roman Period, ending with Roman monuments in an Egyptian style.
In the period after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great (332-30 BC), a Hellenistic style emerged in Alexandria and Lower Egypt parallel to the Egyptian traditions of Middle and Upper Egypt. The few scattered examples of a mixed style are exceptions.
In order to further Akhnaten’s new monotheistic religion, during his reign (1350-1333 BC), the depiction of the human form oriented itself exclusively on the image of the king. The choice of subjects was centred entirely on the world of the living, with sweeping scenes depicting nature – plants and animals – generally interpreted as an artistic hymn to the sun god.
Few new artistic ideas come to Egypt in the Roman Period (30 BC-350 AD). The reliefs in the temples continued to use Pharaonic imagery; though every so often new iconographic detail would appear, Egyptian art proved itself quite resilient against foreign influences. One notable exception are the mummy portraits with their three-quarter or frontal views.
In the Late Period (Dynasties 25-30, 750-332 BC), stylistic forms were influenced by alternating foreign rulers and native dynasties. Artistic impulses from Ancient Sudan and the Persian Empire existed next to archaizing elements. In the 7th century BC, Egypt first influenced Greek sculpture (kouroi) before, from the 4th century BC onward, being influenced by Greek elements in turn.
During the Old Kingdom (Dynasties 3-6, 2670-2200 BC), extensive cycles of reliefs were created for the royal funerary temples and private tombs, as well as stone sculptures of kings and officials, occasionally monumental in size. This was the first heyday of individualised depictions of people appearing first in relief, then in sculpture. The fall of the Old Kingdom is reflected in a deterioration in both the quality and quantity of artworks.
The Egyptian Museum was built specifically to house this collection – which is not self-evident. Very often, museums are housed in pre-existing, often historical buildings and forced to adapt to the conditions they find there. Not so in the Munich museum: here, the rooms were built for and around the objects. The specificities of the collection decided the architecture, providing every object with a tailor-made presentation.