Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom at The Met, NY

Mentuhotep II

Detail Sandstone Statue of Mentuhotep II in the Jubilee Garment, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty II, ca 2051-2000 BC, From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, Temple of Mentuhotep II, originally from the courtyard, MMA excavations, 1921–22, Rogers Fund, 1926, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom will be an exhibition displaying objects ranging in size from monumental stone sculptures to delicate examples of jewellery, which will open on October 12 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) in New York

Fashioned with great subtlety and sensitivity the exhibition will be drawn from pre-eminent collections within The Met itself, as well as some thirty-seven (37) museums and collections throughout North America and Europe.

The ancient Egyptians were truly amazing, creating a civilisation that lasted for over 3,000 years. We owe our calendar of 365 days to the ancient Egyptians who were the first to divide the day and night into 24 hours.

Thebes was the ceremonial capital on the West Bank of the Nile and the Egyptian people developed a remarkable knowledge of astronomy, engineering, mathematics and medicine as well as an organised taxation and legal system with a police force and courts.

The great strength of Egyptian culture during the reign of the pharaohs was that religion and life were interchangeable and interdependent in their approach to, and understanding of their existence.

Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II Fragment

Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11, reign of Mentuhotep II, 2061–2010 B.C., Deir el-Bahri, Egypt, Limestone, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

They did not seek to separate themselves from their faith, actions or beliefs in their daily occupation. Academics divide the rule of the Pharaoh’s of Ancient Egypt into periods and kingdoms all of which are defined by notable events and periods of great development.

They are the Early Dynastic period 3100 – 2686 BC, Old Kingdom 2686 – 2181 BC, 1st Intermediate Period 2181 – 2055 BC, The Middle Kingdom 2055 – 1650 BC, 2nd Intermediate Period 1650 – 1550 BC, the New Kingdom 1550 – 1069 BC, the 3rd Intermediate Period 1069 – 664 BC, the Late Period 664 – 332 BC and Achaemenid Egypt from 525 – 332 BC.

Then follows Classical Antiquity 332 BC – 629 AD, Middle Ages, 641 – 1517, Early modern 1517 – 1914 and Modern 1882 – present.

Pharaoh Mentuhotep II

Detail: Relief of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II (detail), Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11, ca. 2051–2000 B.C., Egyptian, Painted limestone; H. 14 1/8 in. (35.9 cm), Gift of Egypt Exploration Fund, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (c2030-1650 BC) enjoyed a cultural flowering that would last for nearly 400 years. The Met is particularly rich in Middle Kingdom material and this comprehensive survey of its arts and culture is a first, featuring many objects never shown in the U.S.A before.

Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II was the first and founding Pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom, also know as the period of reunification, during which Osiris became the most important of all its deities.

Images of him recorded on the fragments recovered show him wearing the white crown of upper Egypt. His beard is curved, indicating he had joined the ‘ranks of the gods’.

Adela Oppenheim, Curator of Egyptian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art noted that “… the works of art in the exhibition will show that ancient Egypt constantly evolved, and was remarkably flexible within a consistent framework. New ideas did not simply replace earlier notions; they were added to what had come before, creating a fascinating society of ever-increasing complexity.

Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari was built on a grand scale with pillared porticoes.

Temple Remains Deir el-Bahri, Egypt

Remains of the Temple at Deir el-Bahari, Egypt, Mentuhotep II and III (11th Dinasty, B.C.2061-1998), Thebes, Egypt

Terraced against a cliff it was partially buried under falling debris during an earthquake, the rest destroyed.

Early Middle Kingdom Pharaohs are often depicted with youthful faces and confident expressions contrasting a great deal with the evocative, fleshy faces and deep-set, hooded eyes of later kings, which reflect more on their maturity and humanity.

An assertive figure, Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II was ruler of the southern part of Egypt at first. By the thirty ninth year or his reign, using his might of military power, he had wrested control of the north from the kings at Heracleopolis uniting the country and expanding trade and mining.


Head of a Statue of Amenemhat III Wearing the White Crown, Greywacke, Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, reign of Amenemhat III, ca. 1859–1813 B.C, From Egypt, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Tête de taureau : le dieu Montou

Head of the Statue of a Bovine Deity, Limestone, Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11–12, ca. 2124–1981 B.C. From Egypt, El-Tod Paris, Louvre Museum, Departement des Antiquités égyptiennes

The sculptural art during his and his successor’s reign consisted of the block figure type with the head and torso a focus.

Both men and women had these created, giving an idea that equality was part of the culture of his age in which he had six Queens who were buried behind his tomb. Henhenet, Kemsit, Kawit, Sadeh, Ashayt and Muyet.

Their role in his life was to support his rule as the ‘guarantor of divine order on earth’ and woman had more legal rights during the reign of the pharaohs than in some countries today.

They also wore fine clothing and used a wide range of cosmetics and beauty products.

Four Queens ruled Egypt in their own right with Hatshepsut (foremost of noble women) during the New Kingdom period depicted in many of her statues as the ‘ideal king’.

“The astonishing continuity of ancient Egyptian culture, with certain basic principles lasting for thousands of years, gives the impression of changelessness,” said Adela Oppenheim.


Figure of a Hippopotamus, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, Senwosret to Senwosret II, ca. 1961-1878 BC, From Egypt, Middle Egypt, Meir (Mir), Tomb B no. 3 of the nomarch Senbi II, pit 1 (steward Senbi), Khashaba excavations, 1910, Faience, Gift of Edward S. Harkness, 1917, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

One of my favourite figures from the Middle Kingdom, will be sure to be on display.

The statuette of a Hippopotamus from Dynasty 12 is pure delight. He takes cute to the next level.

Moulded from the type of ceramic material local potters made from ground quartz, he was painted with the outline of river plants, symbolizing the environment in which he lived.

For the Egyptians the Hippopotamus was a formidable animal, one of the most dangerous, who had to be controlled in his lifetime and the next.

Literature too developed from being just for practical use of accounts in daily life and the harvest, to being about storytelling; the story of Sinhue was a notable one produced at this time, along with philosophical works.

The family was the main focus of ancient Egyptian culture, with relatives depicted together on stelae and sculpture, including poignant groupings of mothers and their young children.

Making Bread Ancient Egypt

Model from the tomb of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II From Deir el-Bahari, Egypt, 11th Dynasty, around 2000 BC, courtesy The British Museum

Food production, manufacturing, and journeys by boat are all displayed in several sections of the exhibition. Bread was the staple diet, the production of grain the most important industry, often illustrated on tomb walls.

We know a great deal about it because loaves were placed in a tomb to sustain the occupant on their journey

Osiris ruler of the Underworld was the God who gained importance during this period, through his cult centre at Abydos.

Annual processions between his temple and supposed burial place in the desert to the west were held. To ensure their own afterlife, individuals at many levels of Middle Kingdom society erected memorial chapels for themselves and families along the route.

Golden Fish

Fish Pendant Gold, Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Late Dynasty 12-Dynasty 13, ca. 1878–1640 B.C. From Egypt, El-Haraga, Cemetery A, Tomb 72 On loan courtesy of National , Museums Scotland

The general knowledge of the history of the Middle Kingdom including the achievements of its artists, religious beliefs, burial customs, and relationships with other lands stems in part from The Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsorship of numerous excavations at Middle Kingdom sites including Deir el-Bahri (1920–31), Lisht (1906–34, 1984–91), and Dahshur (1990–present).

Related events will take place throughout the exhibition.Adela Oppenheim, Curator of Egyptian Art. “But the works of art in the exhibition will show that ancient Egypt constantly evolved, and was remarkably flexible within a consistent framework. New ideas did not simply replace earlier notions; they were added to what had come before, creating a fascinating society of ever-increasing complexity.”

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015

Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom

October 12, 2015–January 24, 2016

Exhibition Location: The Tisch Galleries, second floor, Gallery 899

Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom is organized by Adela Oppenheim, Curator, and Dorothea Arnold, Curator Emerita, with Dieter Arnold, Curator, and Kei Yamamoto, Research Associate, all of the Department of Egyptian Art. Exhibition design is by Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Design Manager; graphics are by Mortimer Lebigre, Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers, all of the Museum’s Design Department. A fully illustrated catalogue, suitable for scholars and general readers alike, will be published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press. The book will be available in the Museum’s book shops

1 Comment

  • Regina says:

    I visited the exhibit of Ancient Egypt Middle Kingdom and was struck to observe figures of my African brothers and their associated Kemetic names, yet a very careful disassociation from African and Cushite history who were the very people who built the great pyramid structures, and the great city of Thebes, and much more. The true African associated history of the Middle Kingdom is documented in the historical writings of the great Chancellor William’s “Destruction of Black Civilization.”

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