A new display at The Met commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Museum's acquisition of the famous ancient Egyptian hippopotamus known as "William." Here William is juxtaposed with an earthenware hippo, made about 4,000 years later by the American artist Carl Walters, which was recently acquired by The American Wing.
Ceramicist Carl Walters was inspired to emulate the brilliant blue color of the Egyptian faience beads and figurines he encountered on his visits to The Met beginning in 1919. By 1921, the artist had succeeded in creating a bright turquoise glaze, later known as "Walters blue," that he often applied over boldly painted black patterns and motifs. Walters was one of America's first artists to combine colorful graphic decoration and ceramic sculpture. He was best known for his playful animal figures like the hippopotamus above, a favorite subject of his that was possibly inspired by William and other Egyptian examples.
In Egypt hippopotamus figurines such as William (above) were deposited in tombs to give the deceased regenerative powers. Their surfaces were often painted with lotus flowers, which were part of the animal's natural habitat and also symbolized rebirth. For his modern hippo, Walters transformed this decoration into foliate and scroll motifs. Walter's hippo is massive with short, broad legs firmly planted on the ground, while the smaller ancient hippo gives a much friendlier impression, matching its positive function. However, the ancient Egyptians knew that hippos were extremely dangerous, and they believed that depictions of them could magically come alive. To learn more about William's dark side, see the video Precaution!
Both hippos will be in conversation in Egyptian Art gallery 107 through April 1, 2018.
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