Florence – Archeological Museum – Egyptian Antiquities

ON the first floor of the Palace of the Crocetta are the Egyptian and Etruscan collections. The very complete chronological order of this small but interesting Museum, beginning with the earliest Egyptian and ending with the latest Etruscan works, is due to the learning of Signor Schiaparelli and Signor Milani, two young professors, who have already earned for themselves high distinction as archeologists. They have so arranged the collection as to afford every facility to the student, as well as amusement to the casual visitor. We are chiefly indebted for this description to the assistance afforded us by the admirable catalogue of Signor Schiaparelli (which it would be well for every stranger reading Italian to purchase) and information derived directly from himself, and from Signor Milani, who is now preparing an elaborate work on Etruscan antiquities. We have also consulted the well-known works of Sir Gardner Wilkinson and Dennis on Egypt and Etruria.

The first object which attracts the visitor is a peculiar tabernacle of granite placed on the landing of the staircase. This was the cage which contained the hawk, sacred to Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, and was brought from the Temple of Philae, in Egypt. An enormous sarcophagus, also of granite, is in the hall below.

Near the entrance to the first room, in a corner to the right, is a table to receive offerings. The cabinets against the walls contain small images of Egyptian divinities. In Cabinet I. are divinities from Abydus, a town of Upper Egypt, in which was the most sacred Temple to Osiris, the great Egyptian god, symbolical of the Good Principle. Nos. 9 and II within this cabinet represent the god clothed in a mantle, and wearing the necklace, called Usez, a flat broad band of beads fitting the neck ; on his head is the Mitra, or Crown of Upper Egypt, adorned with ostrich feathers, and in the centre, the Uræus or Sacred Asp—signifying dominion—supported by ram’s horns, the symbol of strength ; Osiris holds the sceptre of sovereignty. In another image (No. 12) he wears the Crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt : Lower Egypt being represented by a low cap, which is surmounted by the mitre of Upper Egypt.

In the same cabinet are several images of Isis, the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus ; she has her child on her knee, and wears a diadem with the sacred asp round it ; above, is a solar disc supported by cow’s horns. She is often called Athor the Egyptian Venus (though there appears to have been another goddess of that name), and the myth concerning her is associated with that of the Greek Io, who was transformed into a cow. Isis Athor was also called the Morning Star, and, as the cow held sacred to her was supposed to live beyond the Western Mountains of Thebes, she was said to herald the rising, and receive the setting, sun; she therefore wears the asp, the sun’s disc, and the cow’s horns.

Above and behind these images are examples of the sistrum, a musical instrument used to frighten away Typhon, the Evil Principle ; it was made of bronze, sometimes inlaid with silver or gold, and had metal rings on bars laid across, which rattled as the instrument was shaken.

On the lowest shelf are images of Horus ; in one he is re-presented advancing, and he wears a cap on his head ; in others he has his head shaven, leaving one lock, as was usual with Egyptian children ; he holds his fingers to his lips, either betokening silence, or the common action of a child. In No. 25 he is seated on a lotus flower, which rises from the waters of the Nile ; the flower is inlaid with bits of glass ; the lotus, when expanding its petals to the light, was supposed to represent the rising sun.

At the back of this shelf are paintings on wood, one of which has the bull Apis carrying a corpse to burial.

Cabinet II. contains more images of Osiris and Isis, besides those of some other superior deities. Phtah, the creative power, chiefly worshipped at Memphis, is sometimes represented as a dwarf, pigmy, or child, to signify the beginning ; the beetle, or Scarabeus, as an emblem of creation, belongs specially to him. The figure of Phtah was often carved on the prows of Phoenician vessels, and was Fainted on the chest sup-posed to contain the mortal remains of the god Osiris ; he also appears under the name of Phtah Sokari, with the hawk’s head, which was one of his emblems. His consort Sexet has the head of a lioness, symbolical of the sun’s heat and of vengeance. Some of her images here are in blue porcelain.

Bast, with a cat’s head, is difficult to distinguish from the lioness of Sexet, but she signifies the beneficent warmth of the sun and Harmony.

The fragment of a hideous statue on a pedestal, near the door to the adjoining room, represents Bes, the god of Death, or the Miseries of War, and of Music, probably by music meaning the noise of martial instruments. Signor Schiaparelli believes this god to have been a foreign importation, though worshipped from a very early period by the Egyptians, who also identified him with Typhon, the Evil Principle. His ugly figure is more Asiatic than Egyptian. Images of Bes were introduced into Etruria. On the other side of this door is the mummy of an Ape or Cynocephalus, sacred to the god Thoth.

In Cabinet III. are divinities of Thebes, Heliopolis, and other cities. Nos. 42 and 43 represent Amun, the god of Thebes, and one of the earliest divinities worshipped in Egypt, therefore entitled King of the gods. He advances one leg and arm, as if walking. In the smaller images he has the head of a ram, symbolical of divine strength and power. From him is derived the Egypto-Roman god, Jupiter Ammon. Khouso, or Chous, the son of Amun by his consort Maut (the mother goddess), has, like Horus, one lock of hair to denote childhood; he wears the lunar disc, and carries the sceptre of Thebes.

Nos. 51 and 53 represent Ra, the sun, the supreme god of Egypt ; he also appears in movement, and has a human body with a hawk’s head ; he is crowned with the solar disc and asp : his chief temple was at Heliopolis, the city of the sun.

Nos. 61 and 62 are images of Ma, the goddess of Justice, she is the daughter of Ra, and wears an ostrich feather ; she holds a lotus flower with a hawk resting upon it. Within the cases in the windows are amulets taken from various monuments. Those representing eyes are charms, symbolical of the sun.

In Cabinet VI., between the windows, are images of the gods of evil, amongst whom appears Bes, as a dwarfish monster carved in wood. On the lowest shelf, to the right, is a mythological representation of the triumph of good over evil.

In Cabinet VII. are sacred animals, the asp holding the sun’s disc ; the jackal, sacred to the god Anubis, who super-intended the passage of souls from this world to the next ; some very fine images of the Bull Apis sacred to Osiris ; the Cow of Isis Athor ; the Ram of Amun ; the Vulture of his consort Maut ; the Cat of Bast ; and the Ape or Cynocephalus, symbolical of the study of letters, and sacred to Thoth. This god played a most important part in Egyptian mythology, as the interpreter of the gods, the scribe of the Lower Regions, noting down the deeds of men, and the teacher of arithmetic, geometry, and the game of chess.

Cabinet VIII. has mummies of the Ibis, also sacred to Thoth, and of other animals. Among the curiosities here exhibited, is a cloth containing a number of small serpents, possibly the Cerastes, or venomous horned snake of Egypt.

In the centre of the room is part of a group, representing the Cow of Isis Athor giving nourishment to one of the Pharaohs, who has assumed the form of the god Horus. This group was in a palace at Thebes, but was carried to the temple of Isis in Rome, the remains of which were discovered be-hind the church of Santa Maria della Minerva.

A collection of Scarabei and of minute images of the gods are exhibited on tables under glass. Between the cabinets are religious symbols, hawks, fishes, &c., perched on poles, as they were often placed on sarcophagi.

The second Egyptian room has at one end a chariot found in a tomb at Thebes. It is supposed to have been a trophy brought from some conquered nation north of Egypt. Part of it is made of fossilised bone ; the yoke was covered with leather ; it is probably as old as B.C. 1400. Various sepulchral slabs with inscriptions are here let into the walls. No. 8 commemorates a war carried on against a city of Ethiopia. In the relief the king is accompanied by the prince, who has assumed the form of the god Ra ; and they receive the prisoners from Mentu, the Roman Mars. Eyes, symbolical of the sun, may be frequently observed on these monuments. No. 12 is the interior of a sepulchre. No. 13 belongs to an epoch as far back as B.C. 3000. Nos. 14 and 15, near the columns which support the ceiling, are two small figures of women preparing bread. In the glass cases near the windows are some of the materials used in Egyptian buildings.

On the other side of the columns, No. 34, is the statue of a High Priest of Memphis, where the god Phtah, the creative power, was worshipped. This High Priest lived about B.C. 1500. The stone, of which his statue is made, is the hardest then used.

A sarcophagus in the centre of the room has at the bottom of the interior, as well as under the lid, paintings representing the goddess Nut, who, like Hera or Juno in Grecian mythology, was emblematical of the vault of heaven, and she was supposed to receive the human soul. Nos. 37 and 40 are fragments of paintings, in which a man and his wife are re-presented seated: his colour is red, hers yellow, and both are clothed in white.

No. 46 is part of a bas-relief taken from the tomb of a high dignitary at Memphis. The seated figures to the right are smelling the lotus flower, an action frequently seen on Greek and Etruscan vases, and possibly symbolical of the life-giving property of the flower of the sun, or immortality. The lotus was held sacred to Nofer-Atum, a god who wore the flower on his head.

No. 49 is a large coloured relief from the tomb of a king, and is one of the most beautiful monuments found in Egypt. The goddess Isis Athor presents her necklace for the king to touch.

No. 50 is a relief from the same tomb of Ma, the goddess of Justice, and the daughter of Ra ; a sweet smile plays on her mouth, and in her long almond-shaped eyes. No. 51 is another fragment from this tomb, with aquatic birds caught in the Nile ; an Ibis, sacred to Thoth, has escaped from the net and rests on the lotus. The date assigned to these sculptures is B.C. 1400.

On the relief No. 53 the relations of the deceased are per-forming the last rites ; the soul is led by Anubis, whose task was to conduct it through the passage of death, and behind him is the god Ra, the sun which the soul is leaving.

No. 56 is a very fine head, from a statue of the school of sculpture at Memphis.

No. 59 is again a relief, on which is seen the river of the Celestial Paradise, with islands on which the departed souls are cultivating fields ; the ox is fastened to the plough, and a boat is beside the shore.

Another sepulchral slab, No. 76, was erected to the memory of the Supreme Judge of Egypt; his office was one of the most important of the realm, and he presided over thirty inferior judges. He wears a gold chain, to which was attached the emblem of the goddess Ma, Justice, the daughter of Sunlight, sometimes called the goddess Themis. When sentence was pronounced, and the accused person acquitted, the judge touched him with this image.

Nos. 78 and 79 are bricks, such as were made by the Jews when in Egypt.

No. 80 is the statue of a Priest belonging to the temple of the god Amun at Thebes.

Near the window at the farther end of the room, No. 94 is part of the statue of a Governor of the Southern as well as Northern Provinces of Egypt, and High Priest to Neith, the Egyptian Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom and War, who was worshipped at Sais in Lower Egypt, where this statue was made B. C. 600. It was brought to Rome, and placed in the Temple of Isis.

No. 95 is a monument to a Priestess of Amun. In the upper part, the priest worships Osiris, who is accompanied by Isis and her sister Nephys, who is represented standing at the feet of the deceased; on the lower half of this monument is the goddess Athor (in this instance a separate person from Isis) ; she wears a cow’s head, and pours the waters of life into the hands of the deceased person, from which a bird, symbolical of the soul, drinks.

No. 99, a fine head from the statue of one of the kings, is probably a late work, and the portrait of a Greek Ptolemy, B.C. 200. In the window are moulds for casts, amulets, &c.

The third room contains various mummies. In the cabinet No. I are vases, which were placed under the funeral couch, and contained that part of the body which was removed in the process of embalming.

No. 7 is the sarcophagus of an attendant in the Temple of the god Khouso, the son of Amun and Maut. Within the sarcophagus is a picture of the goddess Nut.

No. 22, a very interesting papyrus taken from a mummy ; a soul is here represented awaiting its sentence, after having passed through the severe trials from which it has escaped, by virtue of the book it holds in its hands. Osiris presides as Supreme Judge ; forty-two Assessors or Accusers—equal in number to the cardinal sins to which man is liable—are present, as well as other divinities, among whom Thoth is conspicuous, wearing the head of an Ibis ; he is here as Scribe, to note down the proceedings of the trial ; the heart of the deceased is weighed on scales, beside which a monstrous beast is seated, to whom it is to be thrown, if proved defective.

In the glass Cases I. and II. are small funeral images called Shabti, which were placed in mummy cases, and supposed to assist the dead in the agricultural labours of the other world ; they have a hoe and a bag of seed. The number of these images found in a mummy depended on the wealth of the deceased ; some are of wood, some of stone, and some of porcelain.

In Cabinet II. is a wooden image of Osiris in a small casket containing wheat. In Cabinet III. are Canopi, or vases used, as those before mentioned, to contain that part of the body which was removed when embalming. They are rude imitations of the human figure and have heads, and sometimes arms. They were probably made at Canopus, a city on the coast, near the mouths of the Nile.

The fourth room is assigned for implements and furniture for domestic use. No. I is a head looking upwards, and wearing the ornaments and sacred Asp of an Egyptian king ; a truthful and vigorous work of art. No. 2 is a female bust well executed, and perhaps a portrait, B.C. 1400.

In Cabinet V. are weights composed of rings of gold and silver, used in place of money, a custom followed by the Etruscans. They sometimes have the name of a king engraved on them. No. 20 is the cubit measure, about fifty-two centimetres, or the length from the wrist to the elbow.

In Cabinet VIII. are necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings of precious stones, and of glass ; also sandals made from the palm.

Cabinet IX. contains articles for the toilet, among which are little vases of the black liquid used for staining the eyelids.

The vases in the fifth room are all taken from Egyptian tombs, and were most of them filled with wheat; oil, or wine ; the oldest are brought from Memphis and Thebes.

In Cabinet II. are vases used for libations to the gods ; on some of these are painted or moulded heads of the goddess Athor.

Cabinet V. has a rich collection of alabaster cups and other vases, dating as far back as B.C. 3000.

Cabinet VI. contains vases of a later period, and of Cyprian manufacture, probably after the Persian conquest, and the occupation of Egypt by Cambyses, as they differ essentially from vases of the National or Pharaonic period.

In Cabinet II. of the last Egyptian room, and facing the window, is the portrait of a lady with no small pretension to beauty ; the picture is in encaustic, and probably by a Greek painter. It was found on the face of an Egyptian mummy ; the features are regular, the mouth small, and the large dark eyes are soft in expression ; the ring round the eyes and the black eyebrows are probably artificial; she wears a purple dress and gold earrings. The Sarcophagi Nos. 1, 2, and 9 have paintings in the interior and beneath the lid, representing the goddess Nut ; that in No. i resembles the Byzantine paintings and mosaics of the sixth century after Christ.

In Cabinet III. are images of the Egyptian gods of the Alexandrian period, and there are also some small Christian vases for balsams, which were found in Alexandria.

Cabinets IV., V., and VI. are filled with vases and other objects of Cyprian manufacture, which partake of the character of art belonging to the various nations by which the island of Cyprus was at different periods occupied, colonised, or ruled.

First peopled by Phoenicians who were deficient in artistic feeling, next conquered by the Syrians, also a Phoenician race, this island afterwards fell to Amasis, King of Egypt, the friend of Polycrates of Samos, B.C. 600. On the death of Amasis, Cyprus became subject to Cambyses, King of Persia, and nearly two hundred years later it was taken possession of by the Greek, Alexander of Macedon, when he seized on Egypt and her territories, and founded the city of Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile, B.C. 332.