Artisan Crafts
Grasping Egypt
The popular fascination about Ancient Egypt is not rooted exclusively in its colossal statues or monumental architecture, but also encompasses the Egyptians’ mastery of the “small form” in almost any material, beginning as early as the Predynastic Period in the 4th millennium BC. This room illustrates two aspects of the smaller crafts, displaying – organised according to the different types of materials – on the one hand, artistic masterpieces of the small arts covering five millennia and, on the other, the artisanal know-how necessary for their creation.
Touching allowed! In this room, it is in fact encouraged for all visitors and all objects – whether they be copies, replicas or stone samplers. The well-defined shapes of Egyptian sculpture, with its framework consisting of base plate and back plate, make it predestined for helping the visually-impaired explore aspects of the formal composition defining the various statue types and all their different iconographic details in a tactile fashion.
The stone samples on the large table in the centre of the room are polished smooth on one side to allow visitors to grasp the difference between the rough, freshly-hewn stone and the surface of a polished object. Visitors make good use of it, too. In the neighbouring room “ARTisan Crafts”, you can see original objects made from these stones.
Numerous examples of unfinished pieces make it possible to reconstruct the method used by Egyptian sculptors when making a statue – a series of steps leading from a rectangular block of stone to a coarsely blocked-out shape to the finished and detailed figure – a technique easy enough to understand when presented visually. The seriation shown here was created out of limestone by the sculptors working for Pfanner, the company of restorers who is also responsible for curating the conservation and restoration of the museum’s stone objects.
The Friends of the Museum organisation (founded in 1976) supports the museum in many of its endeavours and finances many projects in the areas of Museum Education, accessibility and inclusivity, as well as sponsoring publications and events, acquisitions and exhibitions. The room “Grasping Egypt” was for the most part financed by the Friends of the Museum. Members can visit the museum for free as well as participate in many events for a free or reduced rate; the museum publication MAAT is also delivered to their homes four times a year.
Accessibility was an important consideration when planning the new building: providing a wheelchair-accessible entrance to the building and to the exhibition rooms, making sure media stations and pulpit viewing cases were at a wheelchair-accessible height – these aspects were integrated into the plan from the beginning. We have a diverse and constantly expanding list of inclusive events for disabled visitors: accessibility is not a state, it’s a process that, in the end, benefits all visitors.
The complete skeleton from the mummy of an ox is on display in a small side room. It was gifted to the Bavarian Academy of Science in 1846. Because “Memphis” was given as its place of origin, it was first identified as an Apis bull; however, this was refuted by a scientific investigation in the 1980s. The documentation on the walls provides additional information on the Serapeum and the sacred bulls buried there.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the Media Station’s three oversized screens offer a lot of information from all areas of Egyptian culture on the subjects of the “Provenance”, “Uses” and “Production” for the different materials. Like the exhibition itself, this interactive experience is sorted according to the different materials: clay, faience, stone, metal, wood and other organic materials.
The immutable nature of gold fuelled the belief that it was the material of the flesh of the gods. In order to guarantee that mortals – especially the King – would remain unchanged for eternity, coffins and other funerary equipment were made out of gold or gilded. Since silver needed to be imported from the Near East and the Aegean, it was originally (in the Old Kingdom) considered more precious than gold. Later, gold became more valuable, with a ratio of 2:1 in the New Kingdom and 10:1 in the Ptolemaic Period.
During the Pharaonic Period, Egypt was relatively barren of timber, meaning that wood was often re-used and statues and coffins pegged together out of many smaller pieces. Wooden objects were precious and reserved for the upper class. Trees, such as sycamores, tamarisks, acacias and various palm trees, mostly grew in gardens. Additionally, woods such as cedar from the Lebanon or ebony from Central Africa were imported in large quantities. The greatest demand for wood came from shipwrights. In construction, wood was used for individual pieces such as columns or architraves in private houses or for shrines and baldachins.
Unlike the individual presentation of the masterpiece objects on the outside of the exhibition block, the inside banks on numbers: some 700 objects in large, open exhibition cases, sorted according to material (clay, faience, stone, metal and organic materials such as wood and papyrus) illustrate their variety. Different types of objects show the uses they were put to, while unfinished pieces and tools describe the work process in creating them.
Three wall cases on one side of the room contain examples of faience and painted wall decoration. Tiles from the underground galleries of the Pyramid of Djoser in Sakkara imitate reed mats in a more durable material; preliminary sketches for a painting from the walls of a Theban tomb provide insight into the work process. Between them, foundation ceremonies, with their succession of rituals, are explained and foundation deposits from different periods can be seen.
Tall exhibition cases are arranged around the centre of the room to provide an enclosed space. On the outside, individual displays reminiscent of jewellers’ showcases highlight 20 masterpieces from all types of material, among them quite famous pieces such as the glass chalice of Thutmosis III., the gold signet ring of Ramses II., the small faience hippopotami of the Middle Kingdom, a curved sword with gold inlays and the head of red jasper, an acquisition of the Friends of the Museum.