Megan Hester: gods and goddesses in Egyptian Art

     This exhibit is on the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt and how they were linked to the artwork from that civilization.  There are two categories of Egyptian art that make up a large portion of the surviving art: royal commissions and funerary objects.  It has been found that religion accounts for the predominance of both types of art.  The Egyptian society’s survival depended upon the continuation of the natural forces, like the flooding of the Nile River.  The Egyptian gods and goddesses, with whom the king had to assure continuity of life through intercession, represented these natural forces.  Religion permeated every aspect of Egyptian life.  According to Egyptian belief, the gods not only created the world, but remained involved in its existence.  From artistic and textual evidence, we know the names of over 1,500 deities.  The Egyptians conceived of their gods in myriad human, animal, and hybrid forms, and assigned numerous functions to them, which evolved over the course of time.  The chief deity was the sun, whom they worshiped as Ra-Horakhty.  In matters concerning the afterlife, the deities Osiris, Isis, and Horus played key roles.  Osiris was the mythical founder of Egypt, and Isis was his consort.  Osiris’s brother Seth (god of chaos) murdered him, and having dismembered him, scattered his remains far and wide.  Isis eventually recovered them, and reassembled them to create the first mummy.  From it she conceived her son, Horus, who avenged his father’s death by besting Seth in a series of contests. Gods took many forms: Ra may have appeared as a falcon-headed man; Osiris as a mummy.  The Egyptians called the king himself the son of Ra and saw him as the human embodiment of Horus.  The king was considered an equal to the gods, therefore he controlled the lands, the future, and the afterlife.  When examining the artwork from ancient Egypt, it is easy to see that it was influenced and shaped by the Egyptian gods and goddesses.  Bust and statues of gods and goddesses were believed to be living embodiments of the deities.  These sacred statues were generally housed in the Temple, or the dwelling place of the deity, that was dedicated to the god or goddess.  These statues were worshipped, revered, and prayers were offered to them along with physical items such as food and drink.  Amunhotep III commissioned two or more Sakhmet statues for each day in the year, compelling the goddess’s favor and protection.  Amulets often depicted the gods and goddesses and were worn by the living as well as the dead.  They were worn for many purposes, some for protection, others to bring good luck, and some so that the gods would bless a family with more children.  The power of these amulets derived from the god or goddess that they represented.  Funerary text such as The Book of the Dead contained incantations or spells, which ultimately came from copying the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom.  Relatives generally placed a version of The Book of the Dead inside the coffin so that the deceased would have the knowledge to pass the tests imposed by the gods of the underworld.  Images of the gods and goddesses are predominantly displayed throughout The Book of the Dead due to their various roles in the afterlife.

Bust of the goddess Sakhmet The Bust of the goddess Sakhmet was created by an unknown artist in Thebes, Egypt. This piece of artwork was made sometime between 1390 BCE and 1352 BCE. The bust was made from granodiorite, an intrusive igneous rock that is similar to granite. The difference between granodiorite and granite is that the granodiorite contains more plagioclase feldspar than orthoclase feldspar. With a weight of 443 lb and dimensions of 39 in by 19.875 in by 15.5625 in, this piece is a beautiful addition to the Brooklyn Museum’s “Egypt Reborn: Art for Eternity” exhibit. The bust of the goddess Sakhmet was a gift to the Brooklyn Museum from Dr. and Mrs. W. Benson Harer, Jr. in honor of Richard Fazzini and the excavations of the Temple of Mut in South Karnak, Mary Smith Dorward Fund and Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund. Many statues of Sakhmet were found in the Precinct of Mut at Karnak, like the other Bust of the Goddess Sakhmet found at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Sakhmet, whose name means “The Powerful One,” wears a sun-disk and cobra on her brow, identifying her as the daughter of the sun god Re. Although Sakhmet’s true form was believed to be hidden, this bust’s lioness face refers to her power and fierce nature, which could either defend or destroy. The goddess’s benevolence and protection were deemed particularly necessary at times of transition, such as the new day or year. Amunhotep III commissioned two or more Sakhmet statues for each day in the year, compelling the goddess’s favor and protection. Since Sakhmet’s actions were primarily destructive while Mut represented protection, the two goddesses were sometimes considered as the positive and negative aspects of one deity.
Amulet in the form of the god Bes The Amulet in the form of the god Bes was created in Thebes, Egypt by an unknown artist sometime between 1390 BCE and 1322 BCE. It is made out of gold and it is 1.4375 in by 0.06875 in by 0.375 in. This amulet resides at the Brooklyn Museum, in Brooklyn, and it is part of the “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” exhibit. The Amulet in the form of the god Bes appears to be a pale gold pendant. When it was made, the sheet metal was made into two halves and then impressed in dies. Then the two halves were put together and after that the loop that is atop the head and tail were added, made as separate pieces. Bes was popularly worshipped as protector of women and infants, and as a facilitator of fertility. Shown standing on the head and shoulders of a woman with a baby, in Bes with Lute the god protects the mother and newborn by driving away potential harm with the sounds of his musical instrument. The large, round ears and facial folds are reminiscent of a snarling lion and connect Bes with powerful felines. Because Bes was a multifaceted god who offered protection during such times of transition as pregnancy and birth, women wore his images, like the Amulet, while giving birth or during rites of passage.
Book of the dead of Kenna The Book of the Dead of the ‘merchant’ Kenna measures 17.7 meters in length, which makes this papyrus the longest manuscript in the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (or The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden). This piece was acquired by the museum’s first director, Caspar Reuvens (1793-1835), in 1835 at an auction located at Sotheby’s in London. This Book of the Dead was Caspar Reuvens’ last acquisition because on his journey home he died of a stroke, with the Book of the Dead in his luggage. It was originally part of the estate of the English consul general in Alexandria, Henry Salt, whose Greek agent Yanni Athanasi had discovered it around 1825. The book was found lying folded across the mummy in twelve pieces. This has caused quite a bit of damage to the outer sheet, due to the mummy being covered with resin or oil. Aside from the damage to the outer sheet, the manuscript’s quality of execution is extraordinary. Certain spells have been executed in color, which is a rare thing indeed, because scribes only used red and black as a rule. Great attention was given to the vignettes, so much so that at times that too little space remained to accommodate the text properly. The vignette pictured here, shows the so-called Judgment of the Dead. The deceased’s ethical actions are being weighed by Maat, the goddess of justice. The god of the art of writing, Thot - who is illustrated in the shape of a hamadryas baboon - is taking down the goddess’s judgment, which is favorable in this case, so the ‘Eater of the Dead’ does not need to come into action. Anubis takes Kenna before Osiris, to ‘see the faces of all good people’.
Solar Barque of Djedhor The Solar Barque of Djedhor was created in Egypt by an unknown artist some time between 380 BC and 343 BC. This piece is a statue made of bronze, it has a width of 26.3 cm and a height of 31.3 cm, and it can be found at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisboa. It was acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian December 17th 1924 through Howard Carter at Sotheby’s, London. This insignia was used in religious processions and ceremonies, it was called a “solar barque” and it is similar to the primitive craft that once sailed on the River Nile. This barque is dedicated to Djedhor for whom the protection of the gods is being invoked according to the hieroglyphic inscription engraved on the hull of the boat and on the temple in the center. The barque is resting on the back of a crocodile that represents the god Sobek, who had apotropaic qualities that were invoked particularly for protection against the dangers presented by the Nile river. Other divinities are also seen represented in this piece like the sisters Isis and Nephthys, guardians of the temple and protectors of the dead. These two goddesses are seen standing on either side of the entrance to the temple. Resting on top of the temple is the falcon headed god Horus, known as the protector of royalty. Inside of the temple is Amin-Ra, god of the Sun and its zenith praying for the resurrection of Djedhor. There is a helmsman at the stern of the barque and a royal sphinx is seen standing at the prow.
Mummy coffin of Petisis The Mummy coffin of Petisis is believed to belong to/ contain one of the Egyptian officials who worked at the temple of Amon of Karnak. The mummy coffin of Petisis is currently located at The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. This piece was created some time between 710 BC and 680 BC in Thebes, Egypt. The mummy coffin is made from wood with a width of 72cm, a height of 220cm, and a depth of 52cm. Egyptian mummy cases, such as this one, are often painted with texts and images from the Book of the Dead. This so-called Book of the Dead is a collection of Egyptian spells that were to be used in the afterlife. Located on the front of the outer coffin of Petisis is a depiction of one of the horizontal scenes from the Book of the Dead. This depicted scene is found in the Book of the Dead and is identified as the illustration that accompanies proverb 151. In this depiction, the mummy lies on a bier that is in the shape of a standing lion. Under the bier stand the four canopic jars, which is where the entrails of the deceased are preserved. The jackal-headed creature standing with its hands above the coffin is Anubis, the god of mummification, as he takes care of the mummy. Hovering above the head of the coffin is the Ba-bird (the soul of the deceased), whose duty was to feed the deceased. Seated at the head end of the coffin is the goddess Isis, followed by two sons of Horus, Duamutef and Oebehsenuef. Located at the foot end of the mummy coffin sits Isis’s sister, the goddess Nephthys, followed by Amset and Hapi.
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