TWO AMENEMHATS: PORTRAITS OF A KING OF THE MIDDLE KINGDOM

02.02.2016 – 09.05.2016

Main Building

The present exhibit is held on the occasion of the 160th birthday of the outstanding Russian scholar Vladimir Golenishchev (1856–1947), whose priceless collection became the foundation of the Egyptian Collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Two statues of king Amenemhat III from the State Hermitage Museum (where Golenishchev worked as a keeper in 1880–1916) and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts are displayed side by side for the first time.

Royal statues were a key element of the state ideology of Ancient Egypt. The king was considered to have a double (human and divine) nature and to be born of the sun god and a mortal woman. The king had a comparable role to gods that assured the country’s existence and prosperity. He was responsible for offerings to gods that were made in numerous temples throughout Egypt and, at the same time, he was an object of worship himself, embodying the fullness of divine power and inaccessibility in his person. For this reason, statues of kings were an essential part of temple statuary, although they remained only partially.

Amenemhat III is one of the best known ancient Egyptian rulers of the Middle Kingdom and the sixth king of the Twelfth Dynasty (1853–1805 BC). It is known that he built two pyramids in Lower Egypt: one in Dahshur, which was never used on account of constructional flaws, and the other in Hawara in the Faiyum Oasis. The second pyramid was part of a grandiose cult complex that Herodotus called the Labyrinth. About 60 statues and statue fragments of the king have come down to us and are housed in well-known Egyptian collections in Cairo, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Copenhagen and Rome.

The present exhibition shows a fragment of a sitting statue of Amenemhat III from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and a well-preserved full-length statue of the king seated on a throne from the State Hermitage Museum. The latter has a hieroglyphic inscription in two columns that is inscribed on the front surface of the throne and the statue’s plinth and contains the king’s titles and throne and personal names: Nimaatre Amenemhat (Egyptian “Re is the possessor of world order” and “Amun is in front”). As one of the few extant inscribed statues of the Middle Kingdom, it attracted the attention of Vladimir Golenishchev, who wrote an article about it in 1893. In the latter, Golenishchev compared Amenemhat’s statue from the Hermitage Museum with the king’s portrait (from his own collection) with sphinx heads from the city of Tanis in Lower Egypt. For the first time in european egyptology, Golenishchev used stylistic analysis while making an attribution, thus enlarging the sense of hieroglyphic texts. As a result he demonstrated that all three representations belong to the same pharaoh – Amenemhat III. To all intents and purposes, his article initiated a study of royal portraits of the Middle Kingdom.

Following the tradition stemming from the Old Kingdom, the king is shown as an athlete with bulging muscles as a symbol of his divine nature. The king wears a ritual royal girdle and headdress (nemes). Both statues show the characteristic physiognomic traits of Amenemhat III: widely spaced narrow eyes with large upper eyelids, a straight nose with an even bridge, a protruding chin, and disproportionately large ears. At the same time, the young face with a youthful fullness around the mouth in the Hermitage statue is also characteristic of traditional representations. The facial traits of Amenemhat III’s sculpture from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts include protruding cheekbones, sunken cheeks, and tightly pinched lips. Broken lines predominate, creating the impression of a segmentary chiseled relief. One may suppose that the torso from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts depicts a mature person and dates from the middle of his reign, while the statue from the Hermitage represents the king in an earlier age. Nevertheless, there is no means of verifying such an assumption.

With regard to the statues of Amenemhat III and his father Senusret III, egyptologists speak about the phenomenon of the royal portrait of the Twelfth Dynasty that is marked by realism and even psychologism, which is not typical for ancient Egyptian art and especially of the representations of rulers. Traditionally, the latter highlighted the divine nature of the king as an object of cult worship and thus brought across the qualities of stability, permanence and standartization. On the contrary, the psychological portrait minutely reflects states of mood and individual personality traits. The two representations of Amenemhat from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the Hermitage are profound mixtures of idealization and psychological depth.

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