Now we are going to talk about some interesting facts about ancient Egyptian art, as we will discuss some facts about the Egyptian museum.
It is one of the oldest and greatest museums in the world displaying ancient Egyptian artifacts from Pre-dynastic period to Graeco-Roman period.
It houses the world’s largest collection of pharaonic antiquities and many treasures of King Tutankhamen.
It is located in one of the main squares in the city center of Cairo called El Tahrir Square right at the center of the capital.
The fact about the history of the museum
The western interest in Egyptology has actually started since the French expedition led by Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt in 1798.
From the positive effects of the French Expedition is that archaeologists began to pay attention to Egyptian monuments and artifacts.
The French scientists even published a great book about Egypt and its monuments, which is still in use till our present time, known as “La description de L’Egypte”.
But unfortunately, there were also some negative effects of the western interest such as:
Lots of robberies and lootings of our monuments especially after excavations and this resulted in scattering our precious artifacts all over the world.
“Mohamed Ali Pasha” was determined to put an end for the lootings of the archaeological sites in Egypt.
In 1835, he decided to establish an organization called “The Antiquities Service” to store the outcome of the archaeological digs and to preserve our ancient Egyptian monuments.
So for the first time, the Egyptian artifacts were collected by the Egyptian government and stored in a small building in the Azbakiah garden in Cairo.
Unfortunately, the first collection housed in Bulaq was destroyed because of an inundation.
Whatever has remained was moved by the Khedive Ismail to his summer palace at Giza until the completion of our present museum.
Mariette has decided to build a more beautiful and magnificent place worthy of housing the collection of the Egyptian monuments. But unfortunately, he died in 1881, before the completion of the museum.
Another Egyptologist took over; his name was Gaston Maspero” he started building the museum in 1897 then managed to open it to the public in 1902. he was the 1st director of the Egyptian museum.
This museum was designed by the French architect “Marcel Dourgnon” during the reign of Khedive Abbass Helmy the viceroy of Egypt at that time. t is decorated in Graeco-Roman style or “Neoclassical” style.
The entrance doorway is flanked on both sides by Ionic columns, topped by a central bust of Goddess Hathor.
Hathor was one of the most important ancient Egyptian deities. Her name in hieroglyphs was (ḥwt-ḥr), which means “the house of Horus”.
Hathor was a beneficent deity. She was the goddess of joy, love, beauty and maternity. She was a cow goddess as she was the suckler of all kings.
She was characterized by wearing a certain kind of wig called “the Hathoric wig” also known as “The Tripartite wig”. She was represented in three different forms:
1) As a full cow
2) With the body of a lady and the face, ears, and horns of a cow, or as a “cow-headed woman.”
3) As a lady with only the cow horns and the sun disk in between.
On either side of the head of goddess Hathor, we can see two semi-identical status of a lady who is goddess Isis.
She is represented wearing a dress shown in Graeco-Roman style and holding a Lotus flower in her right hand, which was a sign of rebirth and resurrection.
The ancient Egyptians paid much attention to symmetry in representing his art, that’s why we can see two figures of Isis, almost the same except for the positioning of her hands.
Isis was one of the most important deities of the ancient Egyptian religion.
Both Isis and her husband Osiris formed the elements of kindness versus the evilness of Seth and Nephthys in Egyptian mythology.
The building of the museum started in 1897, which is written at the top right of the façade of the museum.
While on the other side there is a date 1901, which is the date when the museum was actually opened for the public.
At the very top as well, on both sides of the façade we can the letters A and H intermingled together, they represented the initials of Abbas Helmy who was the Khedive of Egypt at the time of the opening of the museum.
We could also see two circular shapes called “Medallions” which contain the names of famous Egyptologists and archaeologists from old times as Champollion, Rossellini, etc …
Also, there are some rectangular blocks of stone inscribed in the Latin language, which contain the names of the capitals of Egypt during different epochs and the names of the most important kings and rulers of these capitals.
There are also three flags at the very top of the façade; two of them are of the Egyptian antiquities service, while the one in the middle is the Egyptian flag.
Why was the façade decorated in a Graeco-Roman style, not an ancient Egyptian style?
The evidence for this is the representation of goddess Isis (dress, hair wig…) also the presence of the two columns with Ionic capitals, which is characteristic of the Greco-Roman period.
This Graeco-Roman style is probably because it allows what we call mixed iconography, which means mixing the features of both the ancient Egyptian and the Graeco-Roman art because the museum contains monuments from different ears of our Egyptian history starting from the early pharaonic era till the end of the Graeco-Roman era.
[the mixed iconography here is shown in representing ancient Egyptian goddess Isis wearing Graeco-Roman (pleated or “drapes” pattern) dress and hair wig.
The plan of the museum
The Egyptian museum is built in two floors, consisting of around 100 rooms (50 in each floor arranged around a central atrium as well as an underground basement used for storage.
It contains around 150,000 pieces on display and 30,000 pieces in store.
The pieces are arranged in a chronological order “from older to newer” in a clock-wise direction starting with the archaic period than the old kingdom then the middle kingdom then the new kingdom and late period ending with the Graeco-Roman period.
These pieces are also arranged according to the heaviness of the items, the heavier ones are downstairs.
But upstairs there are lighter items. Which are divided into collections such as:
- A) The famous collection of “Tutankhamen”
- B) The “Tanis” collection
- C) “The Jewellery collection” and
- D) “The royal mummies” collection.
The garden of the Egyptian museum is decorated with pieces and artifacts from different ancient Egyptian eras but mostly from the new kingdom.
At the beginning of the entrance, there are two sphinxes, which belong to king Thutmosis III, 18th dynasty, who may serve as guardians for the museum.
We know that the sphinx is an important symbol of Egyptian sculpture of art because it used to combine the power of the mind in the human head and the power of the body in the lion’s body.
Also in the garden we can see some standing statues, some triads such as the (Triad of Memphis consisting of Ptah as the main god, the lioness goddess Sekhmet as his consort and Nefertum as their son, replaced here by Ramses ii, 19th dynasty, as well as parts of obelisks and some statues of deities and other statues.
They are all decorating the garden to make visitors anticipate and look forward to what will they see inside the museum as if they are having a taste of what they are about to see.
Also in the garden, there is a fountain and the cenotaph of Mariette pasha.
Approaching the fountain we can see two kinds of plants, which were from the most important plants in ancient Egypt.
These plants are the lotus flower and the papyrus plants, and they were the symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt respectively.
The papyrus was the symbol of Lower Egypt as it used to grow in the Delta, while the lotus was the symbol of Upper Egypt, as it needed as hotter weather to grow such as the weather of Upper Egypt.
But the main reason for the ancient Egyptians to choose the Lotus and the papyrus to be the symbols of upper and Lower Egypt was set deep in ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.
For example, when we look at the papyrus plant we find that its leaves are similar in shape to the sun rays and also if we take a cross-section of the papyrus stem, we can see the shape of a pyramid, which was a sacred symbol as it represented the staircase to heaven according to the ancient Egyptians. And also represents the “Ben Ben” which is the primeval hill.
In ancient Egypt, there were three kinds of Lotus, but the oldest two kinds were the white and the blue lotus.
The blue lotus is also known as “Lily” and it was very important as the deceased used to smell the lotus flower as a sign of resurrection as it has a very good smell.
The third kind of lotus is the pink lotus which came later from foreign lands such as India or Persia.
The lotus and the papyrus together formed a sign called the (Sma T3wy) which means: “the unification of the two lands” and it was a very common feature of decoration in ancient Egyptian sculpture.
The Egyptian Museum and its artifacts is a very beautiful item about ancient Egyptian art.