Gifts for the Gods: Images from Ancient Egyptian Temples

Hill, Marsha, and Deborah Schorsch, eds. (2007)

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Gifts for the Gods: Images from Egyptian Temples

This exhibition is the first ever devoted to the fascinating yet enigmatic statuary created by the ancient Egyptians for interactions with their gods. These copper, bronze, gold, or silver works had a variety of uses—from ritual dramas in the temples and chapels that dotted the landscape to festival processions through the towns and countryside that were thronged by believers. On view are some seventy superb statues and statuettes created in precious metals and copper alloys over more than two millennia. Masterpieces from around the world are represented, including seven extremely rare inlaid and decorated large bronzes from the so-called Third Intermediate Period (1070–664 B.C.), the apogee of Egyptian metalwork.

Understanding the precious metal and bronze statuary of ancient Egypt poses particular challenges. Reverently decommissioned and buried in large temple deposits after long use, the statues often lack historical inscriptions or, indeed, any contextual information. Metal statuary also reveals a somewhat surprising view of Egyptian art, because it represents different cultural, social, and production structures than those of Egypt's more widely recognized stone creations. For instance, the depiction of Hepu (National Archaeological Museum, Athens) with full natural hair—as opposed to the traditional wig—marks him as a member of a newly visible group, probably a soldier in the wars of the early New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1478 B.C.). Through their recent studies of metal statuary, scholars have been able to elaborate a new framework for metal statuary and gain a new appreciation of these works of art.