Egyptian Museum Masterpieces
Prince Rahotep and His Wife Nofret
Dominating Room 32 in the Old Kingdom Galleries are the twin life-sized, limestone statues of two seated royals of the 4th Dynasty. The pair lived four and a half millennia ago, but the
statues� small details, such as the princess�s real fringe poking out from under her wig and her elegant white dress, bring them back to life. The statues were discovered by the museum�s founder, Mariette, at Meidum in 1871.
Dating from 3,000 BC, the Narmer Palette has been called the �first historical document in the world�. It is a flat plate of greenish stone carved with designs that on one side show King Narmer (also known as Menes) wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt and on the reverse, wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. Historians interpret this to represent the unification of the two main tribes of Egypt under one ruler, making Narmer the founder of the 1st Dynasty and first king of all Egypt. This is when ancient Egypt started.
Statue of Ka-Aper
Egyptian art is not usually associated with realism, but so lifelike is this 5th-Dynasty wooden statue of the plump priest Ka-Aper that the workmen who discovered it at Saqqara in 1860 nicknamed him Sheikh al-Balad (�Head of the Village�) because of the resemblance to their own headman. The eyes are extraordinary and are outlined in copper with whites of opaque quartz and rock crystals as pupils.
Head of Nefertiti
The best-known bust of Nefertiti is held by the Berlin Museum but the unpainted quartzite sculpture displayed in the Amarna Room of the Egyptian Museum is also a masterpiece. Although unfinished, it is a magnificent work and, in contrast to the almost grotesque depictions of her husband, Akhenaten, the queen is shown as a wholly human beauty.
Statuette of Khufu (Cheops)
Ironically, the only portrait of the builder of the famed Great Pyramid at Giza, the 4th-Dynasty king, Khufu, is a tiny ivory statuette just 7 cm (3 inches) high. It depicts the king sitting on his throne wearing a long robe and the crown of Lower Egypt and was found in a temple at Abydos in Middle Egypt. It now sits on its own in a cabinet in Room 37.
Tutankhamun�s Lion Throne
There are around 1,700 items in the galleries devoted to the treasures of Tutankhamun. It is easy to be overwhelmed, but don�t miss the Lion Throne. Its wooden frame is wrapped in sheets of gold and silver inlaid with semiprecious stones, faience and coloured glass. On the back of the throne the young king sits under the rays of Aten (the sun) in a style derived from Amarna.
Tutankhamun�s Death Mask
In a museum full of magnificence, the life-sized gold death mask of Tutankhamun remains the show stopper and the most famous example of ancient Egyptian craftmanship. It originally covered the head of the mummy and is an idealized portrait of the pharaoh.
The gold of the headdress is interspersed with lapis lazuli and topped by a cobra that spits at the pharaoh�s enemies.
Middle Kingdom Models
Several rooms on the west wing of the upper floor contain finely detailed models from the 11th Dynasty. These include peasants netting fish from a boat, cattle being driven past scribes recording their number, a weaver�s workshop and marching platoons of soldiers of different ethnicities. Together they offer an invaluable insight into the daily life of the humble ancient Egyptian.
Mask of Thuya
Discovered in 1905, the tomb of Yuya and Thuya has always been overshadowed by the discovery of the tomb of their greatgrandson, Tutankhamun. It contained many beautiful funerary artefacts including a striking funerary mask of gilded plaster with inlaid glass and quartz.
In Room 14 on the first floor are these life-like portraits dating from the period of Roman rule in Egypt (30 BC�395 AD). They represent some of the world�s earliest portraiture. Painted on wooden boards during the subject�s lifetime, they were at death laid over the face of the mummified corpse before it was placed into its sarcophagus.