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How to See the British Museum in Four Visits online

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discovered at Tana; another, with the paintings restored, marked 39;
another in green basalt, marked 33, known to be that of a female
called Auch, decorated with the embalming deities, and inscribed with
a prayer on behalf of the deceased woman; and one of later date which
has held the remains of a member of the priestly class, numbered 17.
To arrive at a fair estimate of the average art displayed in these
ancient sepulchral remains, it is worth the trouble of the visitor to
wander a little about the saloon from one specimen to the next
immediately connected with, or proximately resembling it. Having
examined the coffins shaped like mummies, the visitor should next
direct his attention to the massive oblong cases which lie upon the
ground on either side of him.

The first of these which he may examine is that marked 32. This
sarcophagus was excavated from the back of the palace of Sesostris,
near Thebes. Athor appears in bas-relief upon the lid; the sun is
represented in the interior, together with Heaven represented as a
female, and a repetition of the goddess Athor.

The names of several royal ladies have been deciphered from the
inscriptions, which are the addresses of deities. The black granite
chest of a sarcophagus, numbered 23, is that of a royal scribe named
Hapimen. Here the well-known figures of the Amenti, the embalmer
Anubis, and other deities and symbols, will remind the visitor of the
Egyptian room up stairs, with its strange green little images of
figures half human and half bestial. Round the interior are the
deities to whom the various parts of the human body were severally
dedicated. Since this massive granite was the coffin of Hapimen, it
has been known to the Turks as the "Lover's Fountain," and used by
them as a cistern. The Syenite sarcophagus of a standard-bearer, is
marked 18. The chest of a royal sarcophagus that was taken from the
mosque of St. Athanasius at Alexandria, and which contained the mummy
of a king of the twenty-eighth dynasty, is marked number 10. On the
exterior, the Sun is represented, attended by appropriate deities
travelling through the hours of the day; and on the interior the
visitor will recognise the quaint symbolic forms of the usual
sepulchral gods and goddesses. The two remaining sarcophagi are those
of a scribe and priest of the acropolis of Memphis, and a bard. That
of the former, marked 3, is covered with the figures of Egyptian
divinities and inscriptions to the deceased; that of the latter, in
arragonite, is in the form of a mummy, like those first examined by
the visitor. This coffin has five distinct lines of hieroglyphics
engraved down the front, expressing a chapter of the funeral ritual:
and the face bears evidence of having been gilt.

Having sufficiently examined these massive coffins, upon which the
proudest undertaker of modern times must look humbly, and deplore the
decline of his business as an art, the visitor should at once turn to
other specimens of the sepulchral art of the ancient Egyptians. Of
these, the most interesting are the sepulchral tablets, which are


Our modern tombstones record only the virtues of the dead. If future
generations have to rely upon the revelations of our churchyards for
facts connected with the people of modern times, they will write that
we were all of us faultless as fathers, irreproachable as husbands,
and devoted and self-sacrificial as children. Every tombstone is
engraved with a catalogue of human virtues; and idlers wandering round
about our country churches, find themselves surrounded by the ashes of
fond husbands, innocent angels, and adored wives. These prattlings of
sorrow have their happy significance, since they show the universal
forgiveness that follows even the worst and basest of mankind to the
grave. But viewed as historical records, tombstones are sadly erring
guides. They tell histories of men, written by their mistresses or
their children. The sculpture which adorns the graves of modern races
in this country, generally represents urns, or weeping cherubims,
broken flowers, or fractured columns, or grieving angels. These
symbols of death and grief contrast often oddly with the hopeful
scriptural sentences which they surmount. In some instances the
occupation or calling of the deceased is typified on his tomb - the
unstrung lyre telling the whereabouts of a dead musician; and a
palette indicating the resting-place of a defunct painter. Little that
is great in sculpture has of late marked burial-places.

The Egyptians, on the contrary, employed their choicest workmen to
decorate their tombs. The visitor may, gathering together the
scattered fragments from this saloon, picture to himself one of the
massive solemn vaults of the old Egyptians - the walls decorated with
sepulchral tablets, and beneath each tablet a massive sarcophagus,
containing the mummy of the deceased whose actions the tablet records.
Not altogether unlike the vaults of the present day, save that
perishable materials suffice for modern notions; whereas the Egyptian
provided comforts for the long, long rest, that, according to his
creed, would elapse, before the mummy would shake off its bandages,
and walk forth bodily once more. The Egyptian tablets, of which there
are a great number scattered about the saloon, are, as the visitor
will perceive, of small dimensions, but crowded with mystic
hieroglyphics, and ornamental groups of the funereal deities and other
subjects. The writing records the actions and the name of the
deceased, together with various religious sentiments; and is
therefore, in form and spirit, not unlike the modern epitaph. This
resemblance is not so wonderful as it at first appears, seeing that
the same circumstances acted upon the dictator of the old Egyptian
epitaph, as those which make the modern widow eloquent. The most
modern of the tablets in the present collection are those executed
while Egypt was a Roman state, many are of the time of the Ptolemies,
and one is believed to be of a date before the time of Abraham. This
tablet is to the memory of a state officer: it is marked 212. The
examination of the sarcophagi, will have led the visitor to the
southern end of the saloon; and from this point he should once more
turn to the north, and examine the sepulchral tablets on the eastern
and western walls. He will notice that numbers of them exactly
resemble one another in certain forms; that certain sepulchral scenes
are frequently repeated, and that therefore the tablets cannot be said
in many cases with certainty, to represent either passages in the life
of the deceased, or symbolic images of his career.

First let the visitor remark, numbered 90, a basalt slab, presented to
the museum by the Lords of the Admiralty. It is supposed to have been
originally the cover of a stone coffin, in the time of the Ptolemies.
It is remarkable for a Graeco-Egyptian recumbent figure, executed in
bas-relief. The sepulchral tablets marked 128-9-31-32, are in
calcareous stone. The first is that of a scribe, who is receiving a
funeral offering from his son; the second is that of Akar-se, who is
receiving the offerings of his bereaved family; the third, from
Abydos, has similar representations of family offerings, and the
fourth is that of the chief keeper of the cattle of Rameses II., named
Hara, who prays to Horus, Isis, Nephthys, and Osiris. The first three
tablets are dedicated to Isis. The visitor may also remark in this
neighbourhood a fragment in bas-relief from the tomb near Gizeh, of
Afa. Afa was a palace officer, who is supposed to have flourished
about the period of the fourth dynasty. He is here represented, in
company with various members of his family.

The next tablet to which the visitor should direct his attention is
from Thebes, and is marked 139. It is that of a priest named Rames,
who flourished during the reign of King Menephtah. Here the priest is
represented in the act of adoring various deities, and accepting
funeral honours from his family. The tablet marked 142 is of the time
of the nineteenth dynasty. It bears an inscription referring to a
governor of the Ramesseium, named Amen-mes. The next tablet that
deserves particular remark is one in calcareous stone, from Abydos. It
is in honour of a military chief of the twelfth dynasty, named Nechta.
The pictorial embellishments represent the chief before a table of
offerings, with his wife, mother, and nurse, seated before him. On the
next tablet (144) a judge named Kaha, is adoring funeral deities, and
receiving the usual honours from his family. Passing the tablet of the
commander of the troops of the palace of Sethos I. (146) the visitor
should pause before the interesting tablet marked 147. This tablet
records the date of the birth and marriage of a female named
Tai-em-hept, of the advent of her son Tmouth, and of her death which
took place in the tenth year of the reign of Cleopatra. As the visitor
progresses with his inspection of these tablets, he will be more and
more struck with the minute revelations they afford of the subdivision
of labour among the ancient Egyptians. For instance, one tablet (148)
is that of a superintendent of the builders of the palaces of Thothmes
IV. in Abydos; another (149) is that of a scribe of the royal
quarries; a third (150) is that of a Theban judge, on the lower part
of which are representations in yellow, in the style of the nineteenth
dynasty, of the transport of the corpse, and other funeral ceremonies;
a fourth (154) is that of a royal usher; a fifth is that of Pai, a
queen's officer, among the illustrations of which a tame cynocephalus
may be noticed. The tablet marked 159 is a very ancient specimen. It
is that of Rutkar a priest, who is represented, in company with his
wife, surveying the domestic occupations of his dependents. The tablet
from Thebes, of Baknaa, a master of the horse in the reign of
Sesostris is marked 164. Here the deceased is represented adoring a
group of deities. The other tablets in this vicinity are chiefly of
the time of Rameses II. or III, and are in honour of scribes and other
functionaries immediately connected with the court. Two sepulchral
tablets from Sakkara are interesting. That marked 184 is in honour of
a priestess of Phtha named Tanefer-ho. The pictorial embellishments
represent the priestess about to be introduced to Osiris and other
deities by Anubis and other presiding spirits of the tomb. This
specimen bears the date of the nineteenth year of the reign of Ptolemy
Auletes. The second tablet from Sakkara (188) is that of an ancient
pluralist named I-em-hept, who is represented introduced to Osiris and
other deities by Anubis and his brother spirits or genii. The
inscription below, in the vulgar character of the ancient Egyptians,
is supposed to begin with the sixth year of Cleopatra. Near these
tablets is one in dark granite, of a date before the twelfth dynasty
(187) in honour of Mentu-hept, a superintendent of granaries and
wardrobes. The next tablet to which the visitor's attention should be
directed, is one crowded with symbolic animals and deities (191). It
is that of a functionary named Kaha, who is adoring Chiun, standing on
a lion, and grasping snakes, with Horus and other deities. Asi, a
military chief and priest of a very remote period, is represented on
the next tablet (192), with food before him, and the next (193) is
that found before the great sphinx at Gizeh. On it the sun is
represented, and a Greek inscription tells that it was erected in the
time of Nero, by the inhabitants of Busiris to the Roman governor of
Egypt, Tiberius Claudius Balbillus. The next tablet (194) is that
discovered by Belzoni, near the temple of Karnak, on which a line of
adoring deities are represented. The tablets marked 548, 9, 51 have no
particular points of interest; the visitor may therefore at once pass
to the group, most of which are coloured yellow, and are elaborately
embellished, marked from 555 to 598. The first of these worth especial
notice is that (555) of a Theban judge of the eighteenth dynasty. It
is coloured yellow and the deceased is represented with the boat and
the sun's disc above, and in company with his sister adoring the cow
of Athor; the second (566) is in the form of a doorway, is of the
nineteenth dynasty, is coloured, and is in honour of a conductor of
the festival of Amen-ra; the third and fourth (557-8) are of earlier
date, or the twelfth dynasty, and represent the deceased before tables
of viands; the fifth tablet (560) is in honour of Her-chen, who is
represented with his relations, and Phtah-kan, a scribe, also
represented and similarly attended, all well finished and coloured;
the three following tablets represent the deceased before tables of
viands, coloured; the next (564) is that of the keeper of the
treasury, or "silver abode," in the twelfth dynasty - he too is before
a table of food in company with his relations; the next remarkable
specimen is that marked 569, which is in honour of Athor-si, a
functionary supposed to have been the superintendent of mines in the
twelfth dynasty, who is here represented in one part before a table
loaded with food, and in another part seated, with his hands humbly
crossed upon his breast; the next tablets presenting particular points
for remark are those of Eun-necht, (575) a superintendent of corn and
clothing, of the twelfth dynasty. Senatef, chief of the palace to
Amen-emha II., who is represented receiving a goose, a haunch, and
other food from his relations. Eunentef, a chief and his son standing
face to face, bearing wands and sceptres - a sculptor named User-ur,
who is represented with his wives and parents, and upon which the
square red lines used by the precise Egyptian artists are still
visible on the unfinished parts. After several other tablets of the
twelfth dynasty, is placed (584) a small square one of an earlier date
in honour of Chen-bak, an architect, who is seated with his wife,
receiving the duty of his children. Near this is a good specimen of
old Egyptian bas-relief on calcareous stone, in honour of a palace
officer named Amen-ha (586); and next to it (587) is a tablet in
honour of a superintendent of all the gods, named Seraunut. Hereabouts
also is the tablet from Thebes in honour of Hera, a royal scribe
(588). On this tablet the deceased is represented bearing an
appropriate feather sceptre before Nameses the ninth of the twentieth
dynasty, who is seated on his throne, under the particular
guardianship of the God of truth.

The tablet from Thebes marked 593 is that of a judge and his wife, and
is dedicated to Osiris and Anup. Hereon, the lotus flower is
represented, with corn and bread. The next tablet (594) is one in the
shape of an altar of libations, and is dedicated to Amenophis I. and
the queen Aahmes-Nefer-Ari. It is ornamented with representations of
various foods, including vases of figs. In this neighbourhood are a
few more tablets, including one on which are jars, water-fowl, and
bread cakes, (596) and a fragment upon which the head of a king is
traceable, marked 595. The visitor should also notice now the two
early Saracenic tombstones presented by Dr. Bowring. Having examined
these, the more remarkable of the sepulchral tablets, or tombstones of
the ancient Egyptians, the visitor, still lingering amid the funereal
relics of long ages ago, should turn to the


As we explained when the visitor was in the Egyptian room, better
known as the Mummy room, up stairs, in the course of his second visit,
the ancient Egyptians, when they embalmed their dead, extracted the
viscera, and deposited them, apart from the body, in four vases, over
which the genii of the dead severally presided. Thus every mummy had,
properly, four sepulchral vases; and the collection arranged in the
saloon amply illustrates the varieties of ornament expended upon them.
As the visitor has probably forgotten the particular parts assigned
separately to the genii, it may be well to repeat here that Amset (who
is human-headed,) had the stomach and large intestines under his
especial protection Tuautmutf with his jackal-head presided over the
heart and lungs; Kebhsnuf, with the fierce head of the widely
worshipped hawk, took the gall, bladder, and liver, in charge; while
the baboon-headed Hapi reserved to himself the care of the small
intestines. There does not appear to have been any supernatural
protector of the brains, which, as we have noticed, were drawn through
the nose by the embalmer. These vases are of the most ancient times,
chiefly before the advent of Alexander, after which event the people
began to enclose the entrails of their dead in wax cloths, and
fastening to the various parts the appropriate genius, to have been
content to deposit them in the same case with the body. The vases
which the visitor is about to examine are carved in different
materials, the more costly and highly finished being of arragonite,
and the less important, in wood, stone, or clay. They are all
ornamented with appropriate inscriptions, consisting of exhortations
of the deities to the dead, or comforting syllables from the genii of
the intestines to the departed. The visitor will not care to examine
all these vases in detail, nor would any purpose be served were the
unscientific spectator to hover in this corner for a whole day; it is
sufficient for him to understand the passage these vases occupy in the
ancient history of Egypt, and to notice cursorily the degree of
excellence displayed in the manufacture of them. He will find the
hawk-head of Kebhsnuf in one direction, and the baboon-head of Hapi in
another, and from these pictorial revelations he will know what part
of a deceased Egyptian was deposited in each vase.

With these preliminary words we may leave him to examine the
collection, reserving to ourselves the task of pointing his attention
to one or two of the more remarkable specimens. First let the visitor
notice the complete set of four, in arragonite, marked 614-17. These
were for the internal parts of prince Amen-em-api, the eldest son of
Rameses II., and as the visitor will notice, have severally their
presiding genius, with sacred inscriptions. Another remarkable vase is
that in arragonite marked 609, with its cover fashioned in the form of
a human head, and the remains of an inscription which had been laid on
with a thick kind of colour. That marked 629 with the jackal-head of
Tuantmutf, bears an inscription in which the standard-bearer of Plato
named Hara, part of whose body was inclosed, is reminded that the
genius attends him. One (635) of arragonite has a green waxy paint,
and belonged to a royal bow-bearer of the nineteenth dynasty, named
Renfu. There is another complete set, which do not appear to have been
opened, marked 636-39. The arragonite vases are the most expensive,
and, as we have remarked the most highly finished; but the visitor may
notice also those in coarser material.

Having sufficiently examined these vases, the visitor may take a
general glance at the contents of the saloon, and prepare to examine
the Sphinxes, and colossal figures that are crowded into it. In these
he will recognise only colossal copies of many of the little figures
he saw in the Mummy room up stairs. He will see huge granite
representations of the strange gods and goddesses to which the
ancients devoutly knelt; and in many of these forms he will trace a
placid beauty that reveals often the soul of the sculptor fettered by
the strange formulas of his religion. The visitor having examined the
high reliefs on the tablets and sepulchral monuments of the ancient
Egyptians, has now to examine the specimens that remain of their
statuary. But first of


In viewing cursorily the statuary of the ancient Egyptians, the
investigator is first struck with the colossal proportions adopted by
their sculptors. In those days, when iron was unknown, and when bronze
was the manufactured metal, men contrived without the use of
gunpowder, to remove vast masses of granite from their quarries, and
to shape these masses into the form they chose. Had they a hero to
whom they would pay honour? Forthwith his figure was immortalised in
colossal granite. How these vast masses, when separated from the rock,
and chiselled into statues, were removed to their destination in the
court, or at the entrance of a temple, is a point not satisfactorily
determined. That thousands of lives were spent, year after year, in
the production of the vast monuments which now lie scattered in
confusion about the valley of the Nile is certain; and some men
contemplate this large expenditure of human muscle upon these rude
masses, with a gentle melancholy that is not altogether called for.
There was a spirit in the work that made it noble. And here it is well
that the visitor shall see the opinion of a man whose conclusions were
based upon profound erudition in his art, on the subject of ancient
Egyptian art, artistically viewed. In his lectures on sculpture,
Flaxman says, "Their (the Egyptian) statues are divided into seven
heads and a half, the whole weight of the figure is divided into two
equal parts at the _ospubis_, the rest of the proportions are natural
and not disagreeable. The principal forms of the body and limbs, as
the breasts, belly, shoulders, biceps of the arm, knees, shin-bones,
and feet, are expressed with a fleshy roundness, although without
anatomical knowledge of detail; and in the female figures these parts
often possess considerable elegance and beauty. The forms of the
female face have much the same outline and progression towards beauty
in the features as we see in some of the early Greek statues, and,
like them, without variety of character; for little difference can be
traced in the faces of Isis, in her representations of Diana, Venus,
or Terra, or indeed in Osiris, although sometimes understood to be
Jupiter himself, excepting that in some instances he has a very small
beard, in form resembling a peg. The hands and feet, like the rest of
the figure, have general forms only, without particular detail; the
fingers and toes are flat, of equal thickness, little separated, and
without distinction of the knuckles; yet, altogether, their simplicity
of idea, breadths of parts, and occasional beauty of form, strike the
skilful beholder, and have been highly praised by the best judges,
ancient and modern. In their basso-relievos and paintings, which
require variety of action and situation, are demonstrated their want
of anatomical, mechanical, and geometrical science, relating to the
arts of painting and sculpture. The king, or hero, is three times
larger than the other figures; whatever is the action, whether a
siege, a battle, or taking a town by storm, there is not the smallest
idea of perspective in the place, or magnitude of figures or
buildings. Figures intended to be in violent action are equally
destitute of joints, and other anatomical form, as they are of the
balance and spring of motion, the force of a blow, or the just variety
of line in the turning figure. In a word, their historical art was
informing the beholder in the best manner they could, according to the
rude characters they were able to make. From such a description it is
easy to understand how much their attempts at historical
representation were inferior to their single statues. What has been
hitherto said of Egyptian sculpture, describes the ancient native
sculpture of that people. After the Ptolemies, successors of Alexander
the Great, were kings of Egypt, their sculpture was enlivened by
Grecian animation, and refined by the standard of Grecian beauty in
proportions, attitude, character, and dress. Osiris, Isis, and Orus,
their three great divinities, put on the Macedonian costume; and new
divinities appeared amongst them in Grecian forms, whose
characteristics were compounded from materials of Egyptian, Eastern,
and Grecian theology and philosophy."

First, to give the visitor an idea of the magnitude of the colossi of
the ancient Egyptians, let him notice from the southern extremity of
the saloon the gigantic cast of the face of Sesostris, placed against
the southern wall of the central saloon. This face is a cast from a
colossal statue of that great king of the Egyptians, which was one of
four discovered by the energetic Belzoni, in front of the great temple
of Ibsamboul in Nubia. It is a sitting figure, fifty feet high. These
colossal figures of the great Egyptian monarch were plentiful
throughout Egypt. As the visitor stands before this fragment of a

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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 10 of 17)