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Agyptische Tier- und Gotterbronzen aus Unteragypten: Untersuchungen zu Typus, Ikonographie und Funktion sowie der Bedeutung innerhalb der Kulturkontakte zu Griechenland.

Agyptische Tier- und Gotterbronzen aus Unteragypten: Untersuchungen zu Typus, Ikonographie und Funktion sowie der Bedeutung innerhalb der Kulturkontakte zu Griechenland. By KATJA WEISS. Agypten und Altes Testament, vol. 81.2 vols. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012. Pp. xxxiv + 1092, 79 pits. 198 [euro].

Bronze figurines start to appear in significant numbers in Egypt in the early first millennium B.C.E., and from that time into the Roman period, they were made in increasingly large quantities. Relatively few of them are provenanced, and unfortunately, many of the hoards which have been excavated have been dispersed, and too often records of their origins have been lost, which adds to the problems not only of assigning a date, but even in some cases of identifying the figure, hindering our understanding of their function.

Although bronzes show up in almost every catalog of Egyptian collections, there have been few exhaustive studies of this material and so this work is especially welcome. The first real effort to classify and identify bronzes was Georges Daressy, Statues de Divinite's (Cairo 1906). Now the standard work is Giinther Roeder, Agyptische Bronzefiguren (Berlin 1956). More recently, Bronzes et or egyptiens (Paris 2001) by J. F. Aubert and L. Aubert appeared, but that volume deals more with the gods portrayed and suffers from a lack of photos and figures. In 2007, the Metropolitan Museum of Art issued a catalog for an exhibit of bronzes that presented important analytical information, art historical background, and cultural context on their deposition and function, but it was not intended to be an overall study of forms and function. Another important contribution to our understanding of bronzes is Dieter Kessler's work on animal cults, especially Die heiligen Tiere und der Konig (Wiesbaden 1989), in which he suggested that some figurines were related to the official cult of the king and to festivals rather than being offerings left by pilgrims.

Weiss's massive two-volume work is a revised version of her dissertation for the Johannes Gutenburg-Universitat, Mainz, and indeed it has the appearance of a good German thesis, packed with tables and charts. Although her focus is on bronzes from Lower Egypt, some of the tables include comparative examples of unknown provenance as well as examples from Upper and Middle Egypt and from other areas of the Mediterranean.

The book is divided into chapters on materials and techniques, a description of forms and attributes, a typology, a discussion of Lower Egyptian sites or regions that have yielded bronzes (keyed to the catalog), a discussion of their function in Egypt and as a means of cultural exchange with other countries, and bronzes donated by non-Egyptians. Volume two comprises a huge catalogue, followed by tables and helpful indices including a concordance of provenanced bronzes by museum collections and another of unprovenanced examples, followed by figures and plates.

One of the biggest concerns with bronzes is simply trying to identify some of the subjects depicted. Weiss very reasonably suggests that some statuettes cannot be definitely identified because a single god may be represented in many different ways. Yet in the catalog, she parses some of the types of figures so closely that one might wonder if the Egyptians themselves would have recognized the precise divisions, or if some of the figures are to be understood as syncretistic deities. Compounding the problem of precise identification is that so few of these figurines have a provenance that might suggest in which cult(s) they served.

Difficulties in identification can be seen with the discussion of the male lion-headed figures (Weiss's Types 104-7). Such representations are usually taken to be Mahes, the god of Leontopolis and Bubastis, whereas Weiss identifies most of them as Horus of Pe/Horus son of Wadjet. In the catalog, all are referred to generically as "Lowengott," and then further identified as Horus of Pe or Mahes. But there is a lack of agreement between the plates, the catalog, and the typology. For example, nos. 536, 544, and 549 are catalogued as a generic lion god, but the more specific identification can be found in the plate captions and typologies. It remains to be seen if others will agree with the suggestion that most of these lion-headed male figures are a form of Horus rather than Mahes.

The section on technology does not present any significant new material, relying heavily on the Metropolitan Museum's 2007 publication and Lucas and Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries (1962).

In recent years, there has been renewed discussion about the function of bronze figurines, especially those associated with the sacred animal necropolises. Overall, Weiss views them as an iiber-offering, being larger, more substantive, and a larger real investment than prayer (pp. 463-64). She differentiates three ways they were used: as a votive offering, as a cult offering, or as a funerary offering (p. 463). She cites a hoard recovered from a house at Naukratis (p. 466) as evidence that they rarely can come from a domestic context.

Several times she asserts that animal figurines are from animal necropolises, while those of gods are from temple contexts (pp. 469, 475, 480), but the occurrences of Osiris figurines from the sacred animal necropolis suggests that there was more flexibility in practice. She also notes that the variety of animal figurines recovered from a single necropolis reflects the complexity of the deity's nature (p. 476). She supports Kessler's assertion that animal burials are not casual depositions by pilgrims, but that they were part of festivals of renewal of the king, citing the prominence of figures that represent the souls of Pe and Nekhen, who are associated with the ideology of kingship (pp. 474-81). However, she asserts that the figurines work on several levels, and although they functioned within royal cult, they were also an expression of individual piety.

The dating of this material is notoriously vague, and in some cases Weiss has without comment given dates that differ from previous publications, which leaves the reader to wonder which date is more trustworthy. For example, a cache of Harpocrates figurines from Athribis was dated by the excavator (I. Kamal, "A Bronze Hoard at Athribis,'TLS'/IF 60 [1968]) to the Ptolemaic period, while here they are Dynasty 26. A lion-headed male figure (Berlin 13788, no. 538), which appears elsewhere (K.-H. Priese, ed,,Agyptisches Museum [Mainz 1991], 229) as Greco-Roman, here is Dynasties 25-30.

The subtitle of the work, "... sowie der Bedeutung innerhalb der Kulturkontakte zu Griechenland," suggests that that is a major focus of this book, when in fact it is a minor, and not illuminating, part. Much of the text in chapter VI devoted to bronzes found outside Egypt and those with non-Egyptian dedication inscriptions largely resumes material from the previous chapter on function. It does include useful lists of bronzes found outside Egypt, as well as examples with and without provenience inscribed in Greek, Phoenician, Carian, Persian, and Northwest Semitic, and with bilingual dedications. Weiss notes that from the time of Psammetik I, foreigners, especially soldiers, made dedications of bronzes to Egyptian gods mainly in the context of the New Year festival, but concludes that contact between Egyptians and foreigners was not extensive before the Hellenistic period.

There are some oddities within the organization and presentation of the material. In the typology, some types have headings of the classification, others do not. It is unlikely that a work of this size could escape proofreading errors such as what should be superscript footnotes that appear as numerals within the text (pp. 23, 29). A few of the types (among them 14, 17, 20, 39, 45, 143a, 149) do not have a representative photo, which makes comparison difficult.

It is inevitable that this work will be compared to Roeder's Agyptische Bronzefiguren, a classic work that is now very difficult to find other than in major libraries. The two books cover much the same ground, although they are organized differently. Both address the materials, manufacture, and function of the figurines, and both present an exhaustive catalog of bronzes with images of representative types. Weiss's emphasis upon bronzes from Lower Egypt does not affect the usefulness of her catalog, for the types she presents are generally representative of Egyptian bronzes overall. The photos in Weiss are generally better, or at least better reproduced, than those in Roeder, and of course, the plates are an essential part of this study.

In summary, although the promise of illuminating cultural contacts is not fully met, this work is a very welcome and useful addition to our understanding and cataloging of Egyptian bronzes. The author should be lauded for the enormous amount of effort that was expended compiling it. It should be added to the libraries of art historians, of Egyptologists, and of any museum that holds Egyptian bronzes.


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Author:Teeter, Emily
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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