funerary figurines above are of Ushabtis of Pa-Sherry-Iset
and date to the Third Intermediate Period, Dynasties 21-22
(1070-712 BC). They are on loan from the Memphis Brooks
Museum of Art, a gift from William W. and Hallie Goodman.
The box above for Ushabtis is from the New Kingdom to
the Third Intermediate Period (1550-712 BC). It is a bequest
from Glenn White.
Excuse Iret-irew for being a bit restless these days.
The Egyptian mummy and University's "oldest" resident
at 2,000 years of age has long been the star attraction at
The U of M's Art Museum. But because of a major art exhibition
on campus, Iret-irew is now having to share equal billing
with several intriguing Egyptian artifacts.
"The Gods of Ancient Memphis" runs through Oct.
4 and showcases 120 splendid pieces of major Egyptian artwork,
including 24 featured loans from the University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Other lenders include
Boston's Museum of Fine Art, London's British Museum, the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Memphis' Pink Palace
and Brooks Museum of Art.
The exhibit coincides with another major event occurring
at The Pyramid in downtown Memphis: the Memphis Wonders Series
"Eternal Egypt: The Masterworks of Ancient Art from the
British Museum." Running through Oct. 21, this collection
is being described at the most important Egyptian art exhibit
since the King Tut tour of the 1970s.
"The U of M exhibition is a great showcase for our wonderful
collection in conjunction with key, carefully selected loans
of Egyptian art from other institutions and private collectors,"
says Dr. Melinda Hartwig, curator of Egyptian Art at The U
of M. "It's also a great way to do something fresh and
"There are some amazing pieces of Egyptian art that
we own here at the University that have never been on display
- not minor pieces but really beautiful things," she
says. Hartwig and Dr. Steve Harvey, assistant director of
the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology (IEAA), are
co-curators of the exhibit, which is presented by the IEAA.
Dr. Lorelei Corcoran, director of the Institute, conceived
Like An Egyptian
"Gods of Ancient Memphis" focuses on spiritual
worship and daily life in ancient Memphis. It is designed
to present ancient Memphis as a lively city teeming with the
activities of everyday life - and afterlife.
"With the Wonders' exhibit 'Eternal Egypt,' it's almost
as if you picked up every major piece of Egyptian art from
London and dropped it down into The Pyramid," says Harvey.
"So we knew we had to do something on campus that would
be scholarly and intellectual, while showcasing our collection
that has grown tremendously since the 70's and 80's.
"Everyone knows about mummies, the interest the Egyptians
took in their dead and the pyramids, the places the Egyptians
buried their kings," says Harvey. "But not many
people know what everyday people did, in terms of their own
concerns - how they could make their problems known to the
gods and goddesses and how they could take care of their health
and well being. We try to enlighten people about everdya life
through our exhibit."
Tale of Two Cities
On the surface, the connection of Memphis, Egypt to Memphis,
Tennessee doesn't stretch much farther than the name and a
few coincidental similarities - regional capitals, centers
of religious activity and major transportation routes.
But according to Harvey, the two cities have many intriguing
similarities. "Memphis, Tenn., is a city of many religions,
churches, synagogues and temples," Harvey says. "It
is also home to a very diverse population - a changing population.
We want people to see that the ancient past is not as simple
as they tend to think. It's actually a complicated and diverse
thing. We hope Memphians can find their reflection in the
Memphis, was the capital of ancient Egypt for close to 5,000
years. Located along the Nile on the outskirts of modern Cairo,
ancient Memphis was a cultural and religious center bustling
with people from a variety of backgrounds. The living city
of ancient Memphis was located adjacent to the city of the
dead - the burial grounds of Giza and Saqqara. From about
2650 BC until 1800 BC, the Egyptians buried the pharaohs in
the pyramids and temples of the necropolis, the city of the
dead, believing they would come to life in the next world.
Powers of the Pyramids
amulet of Sakhmet dates from the late period (712-332
BC) and is on loan from the University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The U of M exhibit showcases several major works of jewelry,
metal and stone statues, clay votives, stelae and amulets.
"We were looking for pieces that were pretty and that
would tell our story, but especially beautiful things relating
not only to wealthy people and kings but also to common people,"
The exhibit shows how religious objects were mass produced
- objects as simple as small beads and amulets bought and
sold as tokens of religious worship. Harvey compares them
to modern day lucky charms like a Saint Christopher medal
or rabbits' feet.
Similar to ancient Greece and Rome, the Egyptians had a method
of organizing their gods and goddesses into families of deities,
says Hartwig. Religious traditions were often specific to
one particular town, city or region, so the exhibit spotlights
religious figures in ancient Memphis.
A gilded and inlaid bronze image of Ptah, the chief god of
ancient Memphis and patron deity of craftsmen and artists,
shows him in the form of a mummy with a human head. The piece
is one of the featured loans from the University of Pennsylvania.
A glazed faience statue of Ptah's wife, Sakhmet, shows her
as a lioness with a sun disk on her head. This piece was excavated
from the site of ancient Memphis.
The Egyptians selected a representative feature and created
images to show how they thought the gods and goddesses looked.
"They didn't necessarily think of a husband and wife
pair as resembling one another," Hartwig says. "They
picked a representative feature to portray them. Sakhmet was
a lioness who represented the two sides of a cat - the lovingness
of a mother but with the destructiveness of a lioness."
Sacred animals were a vital part of religious ritual and
processions because they were worshipped as the manifestations
of the gods. Egyptians could even purchase mummified animals
to present to the gods, says Hartwig.
When possible, Harvey and Hartwig selected objects excavated
from ancient Memphis including many discovered by the University
of Pennsylvania expedition in the early 20th century. Unfortunately,
much Egyptian archaeological material has been dug up without
preserving the scientific information.
"Much archaeological material has been looted out of
the soil without any information," Harvey says. "The
problem is that although you may be able to say that the object
is attractive and it is of a certain date, there probably
isn't any more information than that."
domestic stela of a seated deity is most likely Imhotep
and dates to the Roman Period, First Century AD. The work
is a bequest from Glenn White and is part of The U of
M's permanent collection.
Fortunately, the colorful history of the Block Statue of
Nedjem, a permanent piece in The U of M collection, has been
preserved. Excavated from ancient Egypt in 1840, this figure
sits with his knees to his chin and a small version of the
god Ptah-Tatenen at his feet. Bought by a Yankee sea captain
trading in the Mediterranean during the American Civil War,
Nedjem traveled across the Atlantic and was captured by Confederate
forces and taken to New Orleans. After the war, the statue
was taken to Boston where it served as a garden ornament for
years, eventually making it to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Finally, in 1975 it was sold to The University of Memphis
as one of the 44 pieces in the collection.
The core of The U of M's Egyptian collection was purchased
from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with funds donated by
E.H. Little, former chair of the board of Colgate-Palmolive.
Now a component of the Department of Art and a Tennessee Center
of Excellence, The U of M Egyptian Institute has grown to
include more than 1,200 pieces of Egyptian art and culture.
With three Egyptologists on staff, it has the largest public
collection on view in the South.
Wonders' Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Art from the
British Museum exhibit was the second stop on an
eight-city U.S. tour. From one of the world's best collections
of Egyptian antiquities, the British sampling of 144
pieces includes works from the time of the first pharaohs
in 3100 BC to Egypt's occupation by Rome in the Fourth
year's exhibit included a 6,600-pound red granite sculpture
of a reclining lion that dates to 1390 BC. Other major
pieces include a granite bust of Ramesses the Great,
gold jewelry and a mummy mask of a woman from about
Wonders exhibit was the second major Egyptian collection
to appear in Memphis. Ramesses the Great drew
almost 675,000 in 1987 and led to the Wonders series
creation. Other showcases in the series have included
Catherine the Great, Napoleon and Titanic.