Museum PR Announcements News and Information

Metropolitan Museum of Art Opens Exhibition Exploring Origins of Ancient Egyptian Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents The Dawn of Egyptian Art an exhibition exploring origins of ancient egyptian art, on view April 10–August 5, 2012 .

Celebrant figurine (“Bird woman”), Naqada IIa (ca. 3650 BC). Provenance: el-Ma’mariya, Burial 2 (excavated by Henri de Morgan, 1906 – 7). Pottery, paint (Nile clay). H. 29.2 cm (11½ in.), W. 14 cm (5½ in.), Th. 5.7 cm (2¼ in.). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edward Wilbour Fund, 1907 (07.447.505). Image: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum, New York

Some 180 examples of the very earliest works of Egyptian art—created in the Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods, around 4400 B.C.–2649 B.C. (the end of Dynasty 2) from throughout Egypt—will be featured in the exhibition. Outstanding examples of sculpture, painting, and relief from the collections of the Metropolitan and 11 other museums in the United States and Europe have been gathered for this presentation.

“Visitors who are familiar with the appearance of hieroglyphs and other later Egyptian artistic expressions will be surprised by these early works, which are very different in scale, style, and subject matter,” commented exhibition organizer Diana Craig Patch. “Yet, if we look closely at this early art, we can already detect the origins of certain signs in later hieroglyphic writing and of some symbols and concepts associated with ancient Egyptian rulers and the gods. The Predynastic and Early Dynastic period was a time of great creativity, before the ‘typically Egyptian’ forms became codified. Yet, because of the rarity of these objects and lack of inscriptions, we cannot always explain what they meant to the early Egyptians.”

The exhibition includes depictions of landscapes painted on vessels, objects in the form of different animals—grouped by habitat (river, air, or desert)—and humans. Certain groupings will also reflect the important themes of fertility and renewal, and chaos versus order.

Animals occur frequently in early Egyptian art, and the exhibition is particularly rich in images of hippos and crocodiles, turtles, and fish; antelopes, cattle, elephants, baboons, lions, and canids (jackals and dogs); ostriches, ducks, and falcons; and scorpions and snakes. Probably because of certain attributions or characteristics, some animals grew in importance during this period, and they carried forward as symbols in later Egyptian culture, while others disappearbut possibly a few lessllPeriodtributions or characteristics, some, and fish; antelopes, aurochs, ducks and falcons, n Hendrickxed.

Depictions of humans are of two types: realistic figurines in bone or ivory that depict the entire human body; and abstracted forms in clay, mud, ivory, or stone in which the figures often lack arms, have missing or poorly formed legs, or have beak-like faces that emphasize the nose. All figurines have attributes that identify their gender clearly. Evidence indicates that some figurines were made to represent a specific activity and that their position in tombs was not arbitrary.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue by the exhibition’s curator, with essays by Renée Friedman, Ann Macy Roth, Marianne Eaton-Krauss, and David P. Silverman. The publication will be available in the Museum’s book shops ($60, hard cover).

An audio tour, part of the Metropolitan’s Audio Guide program, will be available for rental ($6, $5 for members, and $4 for children under 12).

The Museum’s website ( will include a special feature about the exhibition.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *