Ptolemaic Art Galleries Re-Open – The Met, Fifth Avenue, NY

Nesmin 1
Nesmin 1

Detail of the Mummy of Nesmin, courtesy The Met Fifth Avenue, New York

Galleries 133 and 134, dedicated to information about Ptolemaic rule in Ancient Egypt at The Met Fifth Avenue in New York, re-open on July 1 with a re-installed and much enhanced display. It is based on up to date information and discoveries made by curatorial and conservation staff about The Ptolemies, a dynasty of Macedonian rulers of Egypt who descended from one of the generals of Alexander the Great. The collection reflects the ‘… aesthetic values, history, religious beliefs, and daily life of the ancient Egyptians over the entire course of their great civilization’.

Originally installed in 1976, the addition to the height of the rooms has been brought about by the removal of a false ceiling and the floor space opened out with all new walk-around cases with ultra-clear clear glass to accommodate close viewing; a wall-mounted case that previously protruded into the room has been recessed cleanly into the wall.

nesmin6bDuring the past four decades with the aid of modern technologies, knowledge about the three centuries of Ptolemaic rule in Egypt when Greek settlement increased has expanded during a time when Hellenistic and Egyptian artistic styles both coexisted and blended. The display of some 300 small objects arranged thematically, including amulets and jewelry with information that will increase visitor understanding of the art and culture of the Ptolemaic period.

Three mummies now undressed by CT scans, will now be displayed with the images of amulets found within the wrappings on show as well. One of these was the mummy of the Egyptian priest Nesmin, whose mummy and coffin date to the Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BC). Excavated at the site of Akhmim, together with his coffin complete with the cartonnages that revealed his name, he was purchased by the Museum from the Egyptian government in 1886.

Nesmin came complete with his funerary mask. His name means “The One Who Belongs to (the god) Min” and he was a priest for Min in Akhmim. From the inscription on his coffin we know his father Djedhor was a priest as well, and that his mother Tadiaset was a musician for Min.

Older X-rays and CT scans of Nesmin originally taken in 1995 and 1997, revealed that this mummy had thirty-one amulets within its wrappings. However the identification of the types was limited and the visible details insufficient to permit the identification of the particular gods included.

nesmin7aNow that medical imaging technology and software have advanced so dramatically in the last fifteen years, all has been revealed with outstanding clarity. The scans allow us to know that Nesmin had arthritis in his hips. He died as a middle-aged man and in addition to his amulets he has a wedjat eye on his forehead, an amulet representing the god Thoth on each wrist, and two strings with symmetrically arranged amulets on his torso.

An ancient Egyptian Book of Dead (The Book of Coming Forth by Day), which is nearly 72 foot long, reveals the many prayers and incantations chanted to assist the deceased to enter the afterlife. The display focuses on royalty and society’s elite includes sculptures of queens Arsinoe II and Cleopatra VII.

Arsinoe II

The Small head of Queen Arsinoe 11, courtesy The Met Fifth Avenue, New York

Faience wine vessels bearing the delicate likenesses of Ptolemaic queens; elegant relief plaques associated with royal cults; statuary of officials; and personal, domestic, and funerary items as well as temples, at the centre of Egyptian towns and populations.

Large faience tiles from a shrine, an array of statuary of gods in bronze and stone, and temple offerings ranging from gold jewelry and silver vessels to the wrapped animal mummies associated with animal cults will help to grow your understanding of the land of the Pharoahs.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

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