Lasting for nearly 400 years, the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030-1650 BCE) was an economic, social, and cultural flowering that produced some of the most outstanding artworks ever discovered from Ancient Egypt. Now, over 230 compelling masterpieces from this era have been brought together in one exhibition.
Ancient Egypt’s history is roughly defined by three distinct periods of political unification between Upper and Lower Egypt. Each kingdom, designated Old, Middle, and New, represented the height of Egypt’s cultural, artistic, social, and economic successes. The Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030-1650 BCE) is perhaps best known for its architectural advancements and the strict continuation of established artistic, cultural, religious, and political conventions from the Old Kingdom. Today, with the cooperation of 37 museums and collections in North America and Europe, masterworks from this exciting period of Egypt’s history are being made available to the public at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Head of Amenemhat III Wearing the White Crown, greywacke, 18 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.
(c) Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek 2015

“Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom” will offer patrons a wide variety of objects in all types of materials, sizes, and functions. Particularly magnetic are the number of large, monumental stone sculptures on view. “Colossal Statue of a Pharaoh Seated” is one such highlight of the show. Likely a “ka” or “spirit” sculpture, an idealized and fit Pharaoh is shown seated in a rigid and highly formal pose. Completed in diorite, an extremely hard and durable stone, the piece is meant to exude stability, permanence, wealth, and power. The subject gazes out frontally; he sees everything and nothing.

Head of Senwosret III, quartzite, 17 3/4 x 13 1/2 x 17 in. (c) The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art 2015

Extremely exciting is the inclusion of a quartzite portrait bust of Pharaoh Senwosret III. This piece, which is often noted in art history textbooks, is renowned for its revelation of the sitter’s character. One gets the sense that this Pharaoh, less idealized, is an individual, with distinct physiognomy. His deep-set eyes and his expression convey a tired, perhaps depressed emotional tone in a work that accords well with other images of this king.  
“Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom” opened on October 12 and will be on view through January 24.
To learn more, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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