Egyptomania: Past and Present.
As Christian Sturtewagen and Robert S. Bianchi point out the origins of the Egyptian Museum of Pope Gregory can be traced back to “two waves of Egyptomania”. They occurred about two thousand years apart, but were marked by deep interest in the art of the Pharaohs. The first is to be found in the Roman Empire with such individuals as the poet Catullus, the rogue Clodius and the general Pompey getting the Egyptian bug. Perhaps the most noticeable meeting of the two cultures, Egyptian orientalism and Roman discipline, occurred at the battle of Actium where Octavian- soon to be Augustus- routed Mark Anthony and Cleopatra VII in 31 B.C, a subject that greatly appealed to artists who took their cue from Plutarch. Despite the fall of Egypt, many emperors remained fascinated by the country and its art, a preoccupation that runs from the reign of Augustus to Hadrian, who as was shown a few weeks ago, tried to bring a little bit of the Nile to Rome. However, with the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity, Egyptian art was neglected waiting to be dug up in later centuries. The second wave occurred during Napoleonic times, and its chief protagonist was Jean-François Champollion, shown here in a portrait painted by Leon Cogniet. Champollion’s field was hieroglyphics and he was responsible for publishing the first translation of the Rosetta Stone in 1822. It was Napoleon’s Egyptian campaigns- heavily romanticised by later artists such as Gerome- that first sparked Champollion’s interest in Egyptian matters. Eventually Champollion would create modern Egyptology thus paving the way for the creation of the Museo Gregoriano Egizio.
Origins of the Museo Gregoriano Egizio.
The origins of the museum can be found in the reign of two popes- Pius VII (1800-23) and Leo XII (1823-9). During their tenure the Vatican obtained some Egyptian papyri from e Franciscan missionary, Angelo di Poli and from G.B. Belzoni, a circus strongman who became an adventurer; he was the also the first European to enter the pyramid of Chepren at Giza in 1818. A very enterprising individual, Belzoni also discovered the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings. Care of the papyrus was the responsibility of the Vatican librarian. Though Champollion was invited to Rome to work with the Vatican scholars on Egyptian matters, he remained in hot water since his translation of the Rossetti Stone was thought by some theologians to contradict the Bible. Champollion became friendlier with Vatican scholars and accompanied one of them in 1828 on a Franco/Italian archaeological survey of Egypt. At the start of the nineteenth-century a Camaldolese monk, Cappellari better known as “Mauro” became passionate about Egyptology. Mauro eventually became pope on Feb 12, 1831, with the name of Gregory XVI. On Feb 2, 1837 Gregory founded the Museo Gregoriano Egizio, as well as the Museo Etrusco- see below. Along with another scholar Ungarelli (appointed curator) and Guiseppe Fabris (then Director of the Vatican museums) Gregory planned and designed his museum.
Contents of the Museo Gregoriano Egizio.
The items forming the “core” of the Egyptian museum were actually artifacts owned by the Vatican, thanks to Pope Clement XIV (1769-74) and built on by Pius VI (1775-99). Added to this were objects discovered at sites in Rome, such as the Paola Lagoon, and of course Hadrian’s villa near Tivoli (Herm of Isis and Apis Bull; Antinous as Pharaoh), Pantheon (Egyptian Lions). These were further bolstered by various purchases and objects from the basement of the Biblioteca Casanatense, as well as the Villa Borghese and the Villa Farnesina. A small number of things came from the museum founded by Kircher who had contributed substantially to studies in hieroglyphics and whose erudition had influenced Poussin’s paintings of Moses and the Holy Family in Egypt in the seventeenth-century. To swell the museum even further, purchases were made on the Italian art market (Apis Bull). The Vatican Egyptian holdings do not constitute the “golden age” of Egyptian art. Such works as the Torso of Nectanebo I and the Lions (XXXth Dynasty) dedicated to him hark back to the XXVIth Dynasty which provided the model. The art of the late dynasties, such as that created in the XXXth Dynasty by Nectanebo I are imitative of earlier epochs.
Origins of the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco.
With the opening of the museum in 1837, the culmination of two centuries of collecting was brought to a close. Well into the nineteenth-century the word “Etruscan” was applied not only to works made by that race, but also imports such as Athenian vases linked with Etruscan burials. In the eighteenth-century many sites in Tuscany were excavated (Cortona, Volterra, Siena, Chiusi), but the Vatican also acquired art from private collectors. Thanks to embargoes and restrictions put on antiquities by Pius VII, the papacy- for the first time was able to obtain art from their own territories. In 1815, Pius acquired more “Etruscan” pottery for the Vatican library.
A Note on Ancient Greek and Etruscan Art.
Not much is known about Etruscan art. Apart from modern scholarship’s ignorance of the subject, the Greeks and Romans hardly mention the topic because they “found them disturbing.” In some ways Etruscan art leads on from the Egyptians since they shared similar views about religion: divination, interest in cosmology, belief in survival after death. Lacking the Greek’s love of idealisation, Etruscan art deals with the concrete and the real world. Though they took colour from the Greeks, the Etruscans went far beyond the limited palette of the Greeks. According to Pliny the Greeks favoured white, black, yellow, and red though some recent discoveries have shown blue in Greek painting. The reduced colour scheme can be seen in the style of red and black figured painting. Black figure technique was probably invented at Corinth, though it flowered in Athens during the archaic or “Attic” period (e.g., Eos mourning amphora). In 6th century Greece, some painters were also potters, as in the case of Exekias. With black figure technique, figures and shapes are outlined with brush and then filled in as needed. After this the inner detail was incised or engraved with a pointed tool; certain colours were added after that. What makes the style distinctive is the way the figures resemble silhouettes. With the subsequent style, red figure painting, the colouring is reversed, a broad band is painted round the figures and inner detail are executed by flush lines, usually of diluted paint, sometimes called relief lines.
1) Baron Gros, Napoleon at the Plague House of Jaffa, 1804, oil on canvas, Museé du Louvre, 532 x 720 cm.
2) Leon Cogniet, Portrait of Champollion. 1831, oil on canvas, Museé du Louvre, Paris, measurements not known.
3) Rosetta stone, British museum.
4) Unknown artists, engraving of G.B. Belzoni, early nineteenth-century adventurer and circus strongman.
5) Diorite Statue of the Pharaoh Khafra, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
6) Khafre's Pyramid (Chephren Pyramid, 215.5 m (706 ft), height of 136.4 metres (448 ft)) and the Great Sphinx (21 m high, 75 m long), Giza.
7) J. L. Gerome, Napoleon before the Sphinx, 1867-68, oil on canvas, Hearst Castle, measurements unknown
8) Scenes of everyday life inc An Egyptian craftsman at work on a golden sphinx, wall painting from a tomb in Thebes, about 1400 B.C., London, British Museum.
9) Torso of the pharaoh Nectanebo I, Dynasty XXX, (380-342 B.C.), reign of Nectonebo I, (380- 362 B.C.), Nepi (?), township of Latium, black granite, height 31 ½ inches (80 cm), Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Vatican. Provenance: Not known; donated by township of Latium to Pope Gregory XVI in 1838, one year before the Vatican’s Egyptian museum opened. Condition: damaged on right side; limbs and head lost. Modelling “strong, carefully executed, and lively.” Traditionally, Egyptian craftsmen rendered the torso in partition, focusing on pectoral and lower abdominal regions, while glossing over the rib cage area in between. Here, the modelling is tripartite: pectoral region, ribcage, and lower abdomen clearly defined by merging planes. This tripartite method is more common in the XXVIth Dynasty so the craftsmen were using art of that period as models. (Sturtewagen and Bianchi). Context.
10) Sphinx of Nectanebo I at the entrance of the Luxor temple. Nectanabo (or more properly Nekhtnebef) was a pharaoh of the Thirtieth dynasty of Egypt. In 380 BC, Nectanebo deposed and killed Nefaarud II, starting the last dynasty of Egyptian kings. He seems to have spent much of his reign defending his kingdom from Persian reconquest with the occasional help of troops from Athens or Sparta.. He is also known as a great builder who erected many monuments and temples throughout his long and stable 18-year reign. Nectanebo I restored numerous dilapidated temples throughout Egypt and erected a small kiosk on the sacred island of Philae which would become one of the most important religious sites in Ancient Egypt. This was the first phase of the temple of Isis at Philae; he also built at Elkab, Memphis and the Delta sites of Saft el-Hinna and Tanis. He also significantly erected a stela before a pylon of Ramesses II at Hermopolis. He also built the first pylon in the temple of Karnak. From about 365 BC, Nectanebo was a co-regent with his son Teos, who succeeded him. When he died in 362 BC, Teos succeeded his father on the throne for two short years.
11) Egyptian Lion, Dynasty XXX, (380-342 BC), grey granite with red veining, height, 73 cm, Museo Egizio. For the Egyptians the lion symbolised the power of the country, as well as a symbol for warding off evil. The Vatican lions were probably erected before gateway to a temple at El-Baqliya in honour of Nectanebo I , a pharaoh of the 30th dynasty of Egypt. It’s assumed that both lions were transported to Rome under the orders of Augustus. They were later placed in front of the Pantheon, where they were discovered in the 12th century. Combine naturalistic design with abstraction- each lion’s pose have a “C” shaped curve. They are matching pair and mirror images of each other. The inscriptions celebrate Horus and other Egyptian deities. Inscribed to Nectanebo,
12) Anthropomorphic representation of the Apis bull, late Dynastic Period, (656- 332 B.C.), Early Ptolmaic Period (332-250 B.C.), from the collection of Francesco Piranesi, dark granite with red veining, height 29 15/16 inches (76 cm), Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Vatican. Provenance: statue acquired in 1779 by Francesco Piranesi, who later sold it to the Vatican museums. Context: The ancient Egyptians interred bovines in their cemeteries, very often alongside human corpses. By the Late Dynastic period the cult of Apis had eclipsed all other cults of the bull. This would spread throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Attraction to the Apis Bull rooted in the generative and fecund powers of the animal, which when transferred to the deceased, would help to ensure their re-birth in the afterworld. From the Ramses period the Apis bull was associated with the god Ptah of Memphis and came to be seen as his earthly manifestation. Apis was also associated with Osiris, the supreme god of the dead. In this legend the goddess Isis was assisted by Apis in gathering the remains of her dismembered husband Osiris. The bulls were buried in Memphis in the Serapeum, a vast network of catacombs. Immediately after the death of the Apis Bull a committee of priests were tasked to search Egypt for a successor. This had to have 29 characteristics including a rich black coat with white splashes and a triangular blaze on the forehead. Condition: Statue is a composite figure- bull’s head joined to a human male torso. Between the horns is a sun disk, the top of which is chipped. Deiety wears a broad collar, a kilt, and holds a straight staff, a was spectre surmounted by the head of an animal symbolizing the concepts of dominion and lordship. Dating: Problematic because so few statues for comparison. Most statues tend to show Apis as a striding bull rather than an anthropomorphic standing figure. Polished surface, proportions of the head to the body, and modelling of the torso conform to the Late Dynastic period, particularly the style of the XXXth period.
13) View of the Serapeum, Memphis, Egypt.
14) Double herm of the goddess isis and the Apis bull, Hadrianic period,(A.D. 117-38), from Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli, black marble with white veining, and white marble (horns), height, 19 11/16 (50 cm), Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Vatican. Greel invention that made use of surrounding space by forcing the spectator to walk around the sculpture. Has no inscription; represents a female figure and a bovine. Belongs stylistically to the late Imperial period. Roman sculptors had access to Egyptian models- cold expression, eyelids, broad planes of the face. Headdress non-Egyptian. Head of the bull is rendered more naturalistically. By the time of Nectanebo I, the Egyptians had built a shrine to isis at saqquara. The cult of isis was very popular with the Romans. Discovered by the Jesuits during Gregory xiv’s papacy ay at Hadrian’s villa.
15) Same: Apis Bull.
16) Antinous, the favourite of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Hadrianic period, 117-38 A.D., from Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli, Parian marble, height 94 7/8 (241 cm), Museo Egizio. Antinous was the handsome favourite of the emperor Hadrian. On a trip to Egypt an oracle predicted that Hadrian would suffer a heavy loss. To avert that, Antinous fulfilled the prophecy by drowning himself in the Nile. The suicide probably occurred 170 miles south of Cairo. The statue’s pose is based on that of 5th century Greek athletes who placed the weight on the right foot. This doesn’t quite work because of the forward thrust of the chest. The statue shows Antinous in an Egyptian kilt and pharaonic headdress without the royal cobra. He carries rolled pieces of linen, also seen in Egyptian statuary. Parian marble is a fine grained semi-translucent marble quarried from the Greek island of Paros.
17) Jacques Louis David, Pope Pius VII, 1805, oil on panel, 86 x 71 cm, Museé du Louvre, Paris.
18) Jacques Louis David, Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine, 1805-07, Oil on canvas, 629 x 979 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
19) Detail: Pope Pius VII and various.
20) Unknown Artist, Pius VII Gives Etruscan Vases to the Papal Library, 1818.
21) Greek Vase in the Black figured style, with Achilles and Ajax playing draughts or dice, Exekias, about 540 B.C, Vatican museums.
23) Black figured kylix (drinking cup), Laconian, c. 555 B.C., Interior, Atlas and Prometheus, att to the Arkesilas Painter, height 5 ½ (14 cm), width 10 7/16 (26.5 cm), diameter 7 15/16 (20.2 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco. Context: Laconian atlas at top left; Prometheus and eagle at right. Starry heaven at the top.
25) “Painter of the Vatican Mourner,” Black Figured Amphora, Attic, 530 B.C., obverse, Eos Mourning her Dead Son Memnon, reverse, the Recovery of Helen, height about 18 inches (44 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco.
26) Red Figured Hydria (water-carrying jar), Attic, c. 510 B.C., att to Euthymides, height 15 9/16 (39.5 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco.
27) Red Figured Hydria, Attic period, c. 490 B.C., Apollo Hyperpontius, “The Berlin Painter,” height 20 ½ (52 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco.
28) Detail: Apollo.
29) Detail: Fish.
30) Red Figured Kylix, Attic 470 B.C., Interior, Oedipus and the Sphinx; exterior, satyrs cavorting, diameter 10 3/8 inches (26.3 cm). Oedipus (his name is inscribed), in the garb of a traveler, sits before the legendary Sphinx of Thebes (229K) that devoured those who did not answer his riddle (part of which is written between the mouth of the Sphinx - (297K) and the face of Oedipus) (237K). The Sphinx sits on a column, much in the way that sphinxes were shown on attic grave reliefs of the Archaic period.The exterior scene, with satyrs cavorting, was copied on a cup (now in the Museé Rodin in Paris) by an Etruscan vase painter.
31) Detail: Oedipus.
32) Detail: Sphinx.
33) White-Ground Calyx-Krater (vase for mixing wine and water) , Attic, c. 440- 430 B.C., obverse, Hercules bringing the Infant Dionysos to Pappossilenos and the nymphs; reverse, a seated muse playing the lyre, between two standing muses, att to the Phiale painter, height 12 15/16 inches (32.8 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco. This splendid krater, painted in polychromy on a white engobe (or slip), is the work of the Phiale painter- the pupil of the Achilles painter. Like his teacher, he did much work on lekythoi, continuing the tradition of his master. Hermes brings the infant Dionysos to Papposilenos (410K); a nymph (377K ) follows him. The scene of the presentation (319K ) of Dionysos is exquisite.The krater is bordered (160K) with floral and geometric (327K) patterns.Dionysos was raised by the nymphs of Nysa and his schooling began very early, as we learn from a neck-amphora by the Eucharides painter, on which Zeus himself carries his infant son to a nymph, who is shown with lyre, flute case and writing tablet.
34) Red figured Bell Krater, Paestan, c. 350-325 B.C., obverse, scene from a phylax farce: Hermes and Zeus, att to Asteas, height 14 9/16 inches (37 cm), diameter, 14 3/16 inches (36 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco. Aestas painted a scene from a phlyax farce: Zeus (213K) carries a ladder in an attempt to visit one of his loves. The scene on this vase probably represents Zeus visit to Alkmene, (199K) wife of Amphitrion, who appears at a window. Hermes (242K) holds up a lamp at the right. Phlyax plays are peculiar to the Greek settlements in Southern Italy.The actors, dressed in humorous costume, (194K) burlesque the adventures of gods and heroes. The scene is bordered (98K) with a geometric pattern (194K). Another vase by the same painter (in the British Museum) shows the sequel: Zeus is actually climbing the ladder.Vase with Figures, Cerveteri (necropolis of Sorbo, Calabresi Tomb), late 7th century B.C.,
35) Revetment in the form of a winged horse, early 5th century B.C., polychromed terracotta, height 18 1/8 inches (42 cm), width 15 15/16, (40.5 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco. This horse’s fore part crowned the lower left leg of a temple in Cerveteri from about the first quarter of the 5th century. May refer to Pegasus or a sea horse. Influence of 5th century Greek art is present here.
36) Votive statue of a Child (The “Putto Cararra” ), Tarquinia, first half of the 3rd century B.C., height (excluding the piece attaching the statue to its pedestal) 12 7/8 (32.7 cm), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco. This small statue was excavated in 1770 from the Tarquinian ruins near Corneto.It was presented by Monsignor Francesco Carrara to Pope Clement XIV in 1771 and was placed in the Museo Profano of the Vatican Library which, in turn , gave it to the newly established Museo Etrusco in 1837. The bronze, which is hollow, was cast by lost-wax process in separate parts (torso, head, limbs, etc.). The child is portrayed seated on the ground; his body faces left, the head (238K) turned upward. Around his neck, he wears a bulla suspended from a ring.An inscription, incised deeply, from right to left, on the outside of the left arm after casting, places the statue in the category of ex-votos.The forced tension of the bust and of the head, as well as the animated face of the child suggested to a number of scholars, including J.B. Passeri (1771) that the bronze figure represents the mythic Tages. Tages was the infant seer, the newborn with the face of an old man, who suddenly sprang from the earth before the eyes of Tarquin, the founder of Tarquinia, and revealed to him and to other Etruscan leaders the secrets of Etruscan religious discipline and, in particular, the art of divination.
37) Votive Statue of a Man, terracotta, height overall=1.25m; height of head=0.22m, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco. Provenience: Cerveteri. Date: 2nd century B.C.Commentary. The head derives from a well-known prototype depicting a young man, with a rather flat, triangular-shaped face, (163K) the ears sticking out and the cap-like hair in thin locks, parted over the forehead.The man is dressed in a tunic over which is a cloak identified (by Hafner in 1964) as a toga, worn in the manner of the Greek himation, which usually reached a little below the calves. Statue- the lower part is missing and the lefthand side of the nose is chipped- originally was provided with hands which were executed differently. Figure is strictly frontal in conception.
 “Museo Gregoriano Egizio” in Art of the Vatican Collections, (Met, NY. ) 175-6, 175.
 Hermann Leicht, History of the World’s Art (London, 1963), 136: “But in Egypt the clock of history had run down: the art of the latest period, which dragged on from the XXIst Dynasty to the XXXth, and on to the age of Hellenism, did much in the way of imitation, and did it well, but was no longer creative.”
 Leicht, History of the World’s Art, 162.
 Tony Spiteris, Greek and Etruscan Painting, (London, 1965), 81.
 Spiteris, Greek and Etruscan Painting, 32.
 R.M. Cook, Greek Art: Its Development, Character and Influence (London, 1972), 25-26.