A Pharaoh Lords Over a Museum






A giant 4,000-year-old Egyptian visitor looms over the crowd of live humans milling antlike throughout the vast entry hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is an extraordinary specimen of regal manhood. Carved from a single block of dark gray granodiorite, he sits in a form-fitting kilt on a cubic throne covered by hieroglyphics. He has the broad shoulders, narrow waist and muscular legs of a well-developed athlete. Sporting a headdress of folded striped fabric, he gazes out over the masses with imperturbable self-assurance and open eyes set in a round, youthful face. He is as thrilling as anything in the Met’s great Egyptian collection.

Scholars think this 10-foot tall, almost nine-ton monument originally portrayed the 12th-dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat II, who reigned from about 1919 to 1885 B.C. Later artists evidently altered the facial features to make him more like Ramesses II, the king who ruled from about 1279 to 1213 B.C. He has belonged to Berlin’s Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection since 1837. But now the courtyard in Germany where he usually presides is under reconstruction, so he will be a guest of honor in New York for the next 10 years.

Ancient Egyptian art has captivated Western imaginations for a long time. It inspired the ancient Greeks and Romans and the artists and intellectuals of the European Renaissance. In the 19th century it caused a veritable epidemic of Egyptomania, which infected Art Deco design in the 20th century, along with scores of scary movies, from “The Mummy” of 1932 to “The Mummy” of 1999....



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