The Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung or Egyptian Museum in Berlin was another quick tour through on a late afternoon. It is a place I’ve wanted to see for years as the Egyptian collection is one of the better collections outside Cairo and London. H and I managed to see the British Museum’s collection when we were in London last and it was impressive, but the Berlin collection has a completely different feel, partially due to the spaces that the collection is contained within. So when Robert and David and I had the chance to go, I totally jumped at it.
The entrance of the Egyptian museum is just across from part of der Deutschen Kunst which on this afternoon was lit up against dark skies and appeared quite dramatic.
I was always fascinated with Egyptian hieroglyphics when I was a kid to the point of trying to speak like the ancient Egyptians by sounding out the phonetics. Perhaps the hieroglyphs appealed to me because of my dyslexia? I don’t know, perhaps dyslexia is language dependent and it is less common in cultures that use pictographic representations, though there are auditory components. This sounds like another research project that I am sure someone has looked into, but perhaps not…
Amenhotep II ruled from 1427-1401 BC. There is some argument over how old he was when he died with his age ranging from 40 to 52. Regardless, people… even kings and proclaimed living deities like Amenhotep II did not live long back then.
The Berlin Green Head is perhaps my favorite Egyptian exhibit at the museum. This portrait in stone is absolutely unique in Egyptian art as just about all other representations of faces in ancient Egyptian cultures are absolutely symmetric. This representation, carved in approximately 400 BC is decidedly asymmetric in the detail on the face, the eyes and the shape of the skull.
I love looking at the historical context of faces rendered throughout history and how the representation has wavered back and forth from realistic to interpretive and back again throughout various cultures. It also makes you wonder who these people were that are rendered in stone… Who were these women? The woman on the right reminds me of Gina Torres who played Zoe Washburne from Firefly.
This fragment of a sculpture is another favorite of mine in the museum showing the hands of Akhenaten (1352-1336 BC) and Nefertiti (1370-1330 BC). Nefertiti (I did not get a photograph of the famous bust of Nefertiti as photography of that relic is for some reason forbidden) was the principle wife or chief consort of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Akhenaten is substantially interesting to those who have studied religion as a king of Egypt that prohibited the polytheism that was part and parcel of ancient Egyptian culture in favor of a monotheistic belief in Aten or the Sun which, for his posterity did not end well.
Queen Ahmose-Nofrertari (1562-1495 BC) and her son, Pharaoh Amenhotep I (1526-1506 BC) are depicted here in two separate panels gazing at one another. This scene has also been repeated on a number of found stele from ancient Egypt. Both Ahmose-Nofretari and her son Amenhotep I were revered for long after their passing and had been responsible for a growing art movement that ended up becoming part of ancient Egyptian culture lining tomb walls. Aparently the water clock was also invented during the reign of Amenhotep I. Whether or not he had any role in its sponsorship or creation is a matter of debate, but his court astronomer Amenemheb took credit for it.
The thing that really grabbed my attention about this painting was the use of transparency in the gowns or coverings on both Ahmose-Nofretari and Amenhotep I. I don’t know when transparency was first documented in art, but here it is some time in the 1500s BC.
Robert is looking here at a copy of the Book of the Dead, a funerary text that describes the process and spells to guide a persons soul through the underworld and into the afterlife. There seem to be a number of different Books of the Dead as there are different versions that have been found that seem to be somewhat customized to the person that the documents were entombed with.
The collection of sarcophagi are impressive from the most ancient representations of containers for prepared bodies to more sophisticated containers like the ones below…
This is the sarcophagus lid of Djehapimu or Royal Audit Officer (CFO as Robert described it).
Later sarcophagi had more realistic faces on them and elements of early Christian and Roman themes mixed in with more traditional ancient elements. These sarcophagi are wooden internal coffins intended for use within the more robust stone sarcophagi much like the nesting dolls.
The top floor of the museum has artifacts from the Roman era of ancient Egypt when Egypt was considered a province of Rome from 30BC-641AD. The extent of the roman empire at its greatest was in 117AD under the reign of Trajan and gives you some appreciation for how young most current governments are. While Rome lasted from 27BC until 1453 AD, the age of most civilizations is far less.
This bust of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138AD) was also on display and was created in approximate 120AD. It really is amazing to read about the accomplishments of ancient leaders (good and bad) and compare and contrast those accomplishments with current government leaders… Think about that for just a little while… In the 21 years that Hadrian was Emperor, he saw more of the world than some current heads of state, introduced a new form of government that consolidated Roman law into a single uniform code, created new levels of administration for the state and the Roman army that lasted until the time of Constantine the Great. He served in the Roman army, was responsible for the creation of Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, reversed the expansionist policies of Trajan, brokered peace with Parthia and pacified the German territories. Hadrian also created a Roman Empire wide communication system similar to the Pony Express that came into existence in the US in 1860. On top of that, public works programs to restore old cities and build new ones along with infrastructure like roads and aqueducts, harbors and public buildings were completed.
Thanks to Robert and David for taking in the experience with me. This is a museum that I’ve always wanted to see and experience and hopefully… one of these days, I’ll get a chance to spend a bit more time in it than the tight schedule that we had.