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Gott und Gotter im alten Agypten.

By Sylvia Schoske and Dietrich Wildung. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, 1992. Pp. viii + 240. DM 88.

This is a provocative and infuriating catalogue!

The 143 objects here presented for the first time were collected by an anonymous, presumably German, collector, over the course of thirty years, whose guiding principle was the Qualitat der Objekte. Indeed, the authors, long-time advocates of the value of art history and the primacy of the object over the text in the discipline of Egyptology, repeat this collector's principle in their introduction. They, too, are interested in quality. Since collector and curator are so in accord on this issue and since this collecting principle dominates the discussions found in both the foreword and introduction, why is there absolutely no exegesis anywhere in the catalogue either about issues of quality or of the criteria by which quality may be measured or determined? One cannot simply accept ex cathedra that quality is self-evident to the connoisseur.

The blind acceptance of the bald assertion. that the objects in this catalogue are of high quality leads to a second, somewhat tendentious, premise: Masterpieces provide more information about certain aspects of ancient Egyptian culture than do texts and inscriptions. This emotionally charged polemic, which champions the cause of art historians within the field of Egyptology at the expense of philologists, who have long dominated the discipline (see the comments in the volumes edited by N.-P. Grimal and by M. Eaton-Krauss and E. Graefe), is not supported by any comment in the book. So, for example, in espousing this position, the authors take the unexpected step of prefacing the entire catalogue with a provocative statement about the frontispiece, an uninscribed faience figurine of a kneeling anthropomorphic ram-headed deity who offers an image of a baboon. Challenging the philologists to explain this extraordinary group by recourse to a textual reference, the authors maintain that objects, not texts, provide the discipline of Egyptology with the exceptional window on the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, because no known text has prepared anyone for this particular image which is unique, authentic, and of high quality, a tricolon which in itself contributes nothing toward an increased appreciation or understanding of the piece. So enigmatic is this figurine that the authors themselves beg the issue of its significance by rhetorically asking what this image represents; in response, they offer no definitive reply. Clearly, the image alone, without a supporting text or inscription, does not inform the percipient about its theme. Since this is the case, it becomes difficult to accept the premise that masterpieces of art alone reveal more about Egyptian civilization than do inscriptions. Text and image must be considered together as do, for example, M. Malaise in interpreting a complex group of figures in bronze depicting the child god Harpocrates in the company of several beasts and a vessel, and J. Quaegebeur in dealing with the pharaonic aspects of Nemesis. In both these cases, the objects discussed are not inscribed, but a careful reading of related textual material from other contexts provided the framework within which each of these objects could be better understood.

There are some interesting internal inconsistencies, as well. In dealing with ancient Egyptian metal statuettes, one is habitually perplexed by the apparent lack of correspondence between the deities represented by the figures and those mentioned in the accompanying inscriptions. Two examples in this catalogue will illustrate the problem. The first is a bronze group representing an anthropomorphic crocodile-headed figure and a kneeling male worshipper (cat. 17); these have been placed on a base, the inscriptions around which mention the god Amun-Re. As a result, the authors accept the inscription at face value as referring to the deity in this group and suggest that the god Amun can be represented as a crocodile. On the other hand, a silver statuette of a figure which is traditionally identified as the god Nefertum bears an inscription on the bottom of its base naming only one deity, the goddess Isis (cat. 90). Is one, therefore, to apply the same line of reasoning and identify this figure with that goddess? The authors pass over this sticky situation in a somewhat perfunctory manner, although the problem presented by these two inscriptions are crucial for an understanding of how such inscribed metal statuettes are to be regarded. One should have at least raised the issue of this variance between image and text.

Josef Riederer's appendix, an analysis of the metals used in the bronze statuettes, is interesting, but, unfortunately, is not incorporated into the descriptions of the individual entries. So, for example, the royal head, which is the last object in the catalogue (cat. 143), is there described as "bronze" and bears a very different number from its entries on pages 224-25 (no. 48) where the piece appears to be made of almost pure copper (95.34%). Such lapses are disturbing, to say the least.

The catalogue is, of course, lavishly produced and attractive; each of the objects is illustrated by at least one view, often in color. The anonymous collector's taste gravitated toward the miniature in faience and toward an array of wonderful bronzes from the inevitable Khonsu and Osiris to the ka with its offerings and spear of Horus. He was attracted to rare materials, such as quartzite heads from the late Eighteenth Dynasty, green porphyry (chlorite?) bead of a child-god, "ophikalzit" (sic) (malachite?) torso of a female figure, rock crystal frog, lapis lazuli Maat, bone Nechbet, and royal heads, one of obsidian and a second of haematite.

As one flips through the pages of the catalogue, one's eye is continually arrested by one or another of the images of these striking objects. It is all the more regrettable, therefore, that objects assembled by this collector, possessed as he is of a particular aesthetic predilection, were pressed into the service of a provocative academic premise which was, unfortunately, never fully argued at length in the pages of the catalogue. The authors have, nevertheless, challenged us to think about the issue of quality and to ponder the role of the masterpiece within the discipline of Egyptology.


Eaton-Krauss, M., and E. Graefe, eds. Studien zur agyptischen Kunstgeschichte, Hildesheimer Agyptologische Beitrage 29. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1990. Grimal, N.-C. ed. "Prospection et sauvegarde des antiquites de l'Egypte." In Actes de la Table ronde organisee a l'occasion du centenaire de l'IFAO. Institut Francais d'Archeolgie Orientale du Caire, Bibliotheque d'Etude 88. Pp. ix, 74-75. Cairo: Publications de L'Institut Francais d'Archeologie Orientale, 1981. Malaise, M. "Les Animaux et la pot d'Harpocrate. Contribution a l'iconographie du fils d'Isis." Bulletin de la Societe Francaise d'Egyptologie 122 (1991): 13-35. Quaegebeur, J. "De l'origine egyptienne du griffon Nemesis." In Visages du destin dans les mythologies; Melanges Jacqueline Duchemin, travaux er memoires; Actes du colloque de Chantilly [ [-2.sup.eme] mai 1980. Pp. 41-54. Centre de Recherches Mythologiques de l'Universite de Paris 10. Paris: Societe d'Edition "Les Belles Lettres," 1983.
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Author:Bianchi, Robert Steven
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1994
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