By Steven Adamo
A collection of art focusing on the myths and funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians will open next Saturday at the Vincent Price Art Museum.
“Passing Through the Underworld: Egyptian Art,” is a collection of Egyptian art from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The collection includes sculptures created with a wide range of techniques using materials like limestone, porphyry, bone, granite and bronze.
“Egyptians were really crafty. They made beautiful stone work, ceramics and they worked in all kinds of precious stones. They had amazing skills– and this is all early material,” Nancy Thomas, Senior Deputy Director for Art Administration and Collections at LACMA, said.
The display cases are arranged by theme, one of which is dedicated to royalty and high officials.
Some of the pieces have identifiable characteristics that allow scientists to date them, such as the granite statue of Userhat and Kha.
The statue of Userhat and Kha is dated during the 19th Dynasty based on the clothing they are wearing. “He has a linen outfit with ruffled sleeves, which was a style during the 19th Dynasty,” Thomas said.
One display case shows a sample of the different materials the Egyptian artists used to create their sculptures. One piece in particular shows a ceramic vessel where the artist attempted to imitate stone, resulting in a vein-like pattern swooping around the piece. “You can just imagine the frantic artist trying to paint it,” Thomas said.
A block statue, inscribed for Sr-Dhwty, is made out of a type of volcanic rock called basalt. It was excavated at the Temple of Karnak and is dated during the 26th Dynasty, 664-525 B.C.E.
Though the piece is a little more than two feet tall, it’s heavy.
“They didn’t even try,” Thomas said about the four staff members who were installing the piece into the case. “They had to use a lift in order to jack it up and slide it into the case.”
According to a published study by David Klotz of the University of Basel, the piece was donated to LACMA (when it was the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art) by William Randolph Hearst after suffering great financial loss during the Great Depression.
He attempted to sell the piece to museums, but was rejected after it was revealed that the accompanying head was a forgery.
Some of the historical art pieces are highly sensitive to climate, requiring temperature and humidity readings every half hour for the past two months to ensure that the artifacts are safe. Due to the tests, one piece that is still on hold is the coffin, cartonnage and mummy of Ta-senet-net-hor of the 22nd Dynasty.
“Not only the mummy piece, but other objects that have painted-on elements on wood,” Pilar Tompkins Rivas, Director of the Vincent Price Art Museum, said about the climate’s effect on certain artifacts. “Other parts of the whole structure have wooden elements and they could crack. If it becomes too dry, then that moisture goes out of the piece.”
The original mummy is on loan from LACMA and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who have the final sign-off on whether or not the mummy comes to East Los Angeles.
Thomas said that when the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston received the mummy, it needed to be restored in order to put it on display. “Tomb robbers had torn the covering apart. It was kind of grotesque and not appropriate to show human remains in that state,” Thomas said.
Two permanent pieces from the VPAM will also be on display with the Egyptian Art exhibition: a torso of Osiris and a section of mummy wrappings containing hand-drawn illustrations.
The exhibition will run from March 20 to Dec. 8 at the VPAM.
Opening reception is next Saturday, March 17, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, visit www.vincentpriceartmuseum.org.