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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Composite Papyrus Capital

Late Period
Dynasty 30
reign of Nectanebo I and II
380–343 B.C.
From Egypt, Western Desert; Kharga Oasis, Hibis, Temple, Entrance kiosk, MMA excavations, 1909–10
Sandstone, paint
h. 126 cm (49 5/8 in)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1910
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 131
This capital was set atop one of the ten columns of a kiosk built in front of the temple of Amun at Hibis in Kharga Oasis. It is an early example of a composite capital, which included several kinds of plants combined into a design that, with time, became increasingly more elaborate and fanciful. Here, the composition is still rather simple, consisting of two cyperus species: eight plants of the common papyrus (Cyperus papyrus, above) alternating with eight foxtail flatsedge plants (Cyperus alopecuroides, below). The capital still shows remnants of its original paint.
Nectanebo I (378-360 B.C.) initiated an impressive temple building program based on his attempts to morally fortify Egypt against the Persian threat. Even the far distant Hibis temple in the Kharga Oasis received an addition in the form of a magnificent columned entrance porch with two rows of four columns on each side. Due to the precarious ground, the temple later sagged and the entrance porch collapsed. An expedition of the Metropolitan Museum excavated and documented the temple beginning in 1909 and organized its restoration, which was carried out by Emile Baraize for the Egyptian Antiquities Service. In 1910, H. E. Winlock asked for permission from Gaston Maspero, then head of the Antiquities Service, to purchase one capital (the southwest corner capital) for the Metropolitan Museum and replace it in the reconstructed kiosk with a roughly dressed replica. The original installation within The Museum, as shown on an old photo, was replaced in 1940 and again in 1991, when it was set on a short, abstract column shaft further out in the Sackler Wing (Gallery 131). On that occasion, Ann Heywood carried out major repairs of the capital.

The capital is well documented in Winlock’s publication (Winlock 1941). It represents an eight-stem, double-rowed, open papyrus bundle capital with palmettos. The capital has preserved significant remains of its original paint. During conservation work, Ann Heywood noticed that the ancient paint was applied to a plaster base coat that was supported by very fine gauze.
The capital is 1.95 m wide and 0.915 m high (excluding neck and abacus). The total height of the element is 1.23 m. The original column was 7.05 m high (including base, excluding abacus) and the whole porch was 8.90 m high (excluding the vaulted roof). The column rows were connected by stone architraves but the width of the kiosk was so large (8.3 m) that the roof could not be constructed of stone but instead was made of wood. Notches in the stone architraves indicate the location of 3 cross beams that carried the barrel-shaped roof structure.
The 10 capitals of the porch included four different types and apparently were arranged following a pattern ruled by symbolic considerations. The 4 front capitals (including the New York one) in the east are open, probably alluding to the power of the rising morning sun.

Dieter Arnold 2015
Museum excavations, Kharga Oasis, Egypt.. Allotted to the Museum by the Egyptian Government in a division of finds, 1910.

Winlock, Herbert E. 1941. The Temple of Hibis in El Khargeh Oasis: I. The Excavations, 14. Publications of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition, 1941. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 26-27, pls. 4-8, 42, 46.

Arnold, Dieter 1999. Temples of the Last Pharaohs. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 113–15, figs. 67–70.

Arnold, Dieter 2001. "Holzdächer spätzeitlicher ägyptischer Tempel." In Archaische Griechische Tempel und Altägypten, pp. 107-115, figs. 1, 4.

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