Tuesday, December 8, 2015

E-book Review: Inside the Egyptian Museum by Dr. Zahi Hawass

A history resource article by  © 2015

A couple of weeks ago I noticed Dr. Zahi Hawass had released an e-book version of "Inside the Egyptian Museum Pt 1".  The e-book is the first of four e-books that will be released highlighting the collections of the Egyptian Museum.  I thought it would make a perfect companion to take with me if I ever get a chance to finally visit Egypt so I downloaded both the iPad and iPhone versions from iTunes ($2.99 US).

Although I have never read the hard copy version of the book that was originally released in 2009, I have read "Valley of the Golden Mummies" by Dr. Hawass, so was sure his text would be fact-filled. Furthermore, I hoped the features  available on the iPad would enable me to study the images more closely than I would have been able to by simply browsing a physical book.

Dr. Hawass begins his journey through the museum as you physically would if you visited the galleries in person.  First, though, he describes some of his favorite objects.  These include, naturally, the golden mask of Tutankhamun, as well as a statue of a dwarf named Perniankhu.  As it turns out, Dr. Hawass was present when the dwarf statue was discovered and he describes the experience.  Dr. Hawass did the same thing in his book Valley of the Golden Mummies and I think these insights make the artifacts seem more personal than just a physical description of them.

As I had hoped, the retinal display of my iPad presented the high-resolution images in wonderful detail. If you hold your iPad in the horizontal position, the e-book is designed so each page has a panel of scrollable text on the right side and an image of the object Dr. Hawass is discussing on the left .  If there are multiple images of the artifact or the text describes more than one artifact, you will see little dots under each picture that you can select to view additional images.  Whenever I am photographing artifacts in a museum I try to take images from different angles and closeups as well as full length views. The photographer for this book, Sandro Vanini, has done the same thing, which I really appreciated.  You can also expand the images by spreading your fingers to really study specific details, something not possible with a physical book.

Each page also includes a little map to show you exactly where the object is in the actual museum. So, the iPhone version would work well as a gallery guide if you prefer not to travel with your iPad.
Dr. Hawass presents the artifacts in chronological order beginning with the early Pre-Dynastic Period. Each era in the book is preceded by beautiful full screen images of ancient remains as well as overhead views of the museum gallery pertaining to the period.

First up was a marvelous image of the Narmer Palette.  I had read about the Narmer Palette when I took the Great Courses lecture series "History of Ancient Egypt" presented by Dr. Bob Brier some years ago.  But it was wonderful to be able to examine it in such detail.  I also had a chance to examine the Libyan Palette, too, which I had never seen before.

The Narmer Palette from the Pre-Dynastic Period 3000 BCE Egypt

There were also images of Naqada II pottery.  I had first photographed Naqada pottery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 2007 but knew very little about it.  Dr. Hawass carefully describes the imagery on them and I'm glad he did as I wouldn't have realized what some of the objects portrayed were.

Naqada II pottery at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo by Mary Harrsch  © 2006
Leaving the Pre-Dynastic Period you see an amazing image of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.  What made this image particularly interesting to me was the viewpoint of the pyramid with its chapels in the foreground.  Most documentaries I had seen always show the Step Pyramid from a distance and I don't recall ever seeing the mortuary chapels before.

The Old Kingdom, known as the Pyramid Age, begins with the 3rd dynasty and ends with the 6th dynasty.  One of my favorite pieces from this period was a wooden statue of the Lector Priest Ka-aper.  He looks almost kindly with the hint of a smile on his plump face and his lifelike eyes outlined in copper and crafted of quartz with black paste for pupils make him appear to be looking right at you.  I also found images of inlaid bracelets and a sedan chair particularly interesting.

Moving on we come to the Middle Kingdom.  There is an image of a statue of Queen Nofret, wife of the Pharaoh Senwosret II that caught my eye.  Just a few months ago I saw a similar statue on display at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and learned from Dr. Hawass that the distinctive wig worn by Queen Nofret and the statue I had seen in Baltimore is known as the Hathor wig.  I really appreciate these little details.

Egyptian Queen with Hathor wig 30th Dynasty.
Photographed at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore,
Maryland by Mary Harrsch © 2015
I was also fascinated by a very lifelike statue of Senwosret III.  Many statues I have seen of Egyptian pharaohs are so stylized they sort of look alike to me, but this statue had a very distinctive, care-worn face.

"...his tired eyes, the bitter mouth, the forceful frowning, and the large ears. The tormented visage of the king reflects his new role and responsibility as administrator of Egypt, a result of the later 12th Dynasty kings' policies of expanding the Egyptian border further south, and of crushing the authority of the independent Nomarchs in order to create a more powerful centralized government." - Dr. Zahi Hawass, Inside the Egyptian Museum

Another more realistic sculpture depicted is a statue of Amenenhat III as a priest with a stern face and unusual haircut as well as a sphinx with the face of Amenenhat III and large tufted ears.  Dr. Hawass points out in the book that large ears are a distinctive feature of Middle Kingdom art, an interesting tidbit I will tuck away for future reference.

The book concludes with an extensive bibliography that provides sources for future study if you are so inclined.

I am really looking forward to the next three installments in this e-book series!

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