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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Art of Ancient Egypt and Greece

  • Colossal Statue of King Menkaura

    Slide Notes

    Ask students how we know that this statue is of a king and point out some of the features that are important about the statue (size, headdress, beard, pose/posture/gesture). 

    Details

    Colossal statue of King Menkaura (Mycerinus)

    2490–2472 B.C.

    Dimensions

    Overall: 243.8 x 115.6 x 83.8 cm (96 x 45 1/2 x 33 in.) Other (head): 37.5 x 47cm (14 3/4 x 18 1/2in.)

    Medium

    Travertine (Egyptian alabaster)

    Classification

    Sculpture

    Accession Number

    09.204

    Collections
    The Ancient World
    On View
    Ancient Egyptian Large Sculpture (Mycerinus) - 108 More Info

    Description

    This colossal statue is one of the largest sculptures of the Pyramid Age. With a height of nearly 2.35 meters (8 feet), as restored, it features King Menkaura, who built the smallest of the three pyramids at Giza. His clothing and headgear clearly identify him as the ruler. He wears a wraparound kilt with a central projection, a garment worn only by kings until the end of the Old Kingdom. On his head is a royal kerchief, called a nemes. A cobra, known as a ureaus, is at his brow. This serpent was considered a deity and charged with protecting the king by wrapping itself around the royal brow and spitting its poisonous venom at the king's enemies. Menkaura's long straight beard, another symbol of royalty, was attached by means of a strap that was once painted on the statue's head. His right hand is clasped around a folded cloth, the ends of which extend onto his thigh. The king's expression is one of regal composure and supreme control. With its slightly bulging eyes, bulbous nose, painted moustache (now barely visible), set mouth with pouting lower lip and firm chin, the face is distinctive, but whether or not it represents a true portrait of Menkaura can never be known. This is the face of a mature adult, although neither face nor body displays any signs of aging. It has often been remarked that the head is unusually small for the king's body. Whatever the artist's reason for doing this, it certainly emphasizes the breadth of the figure's torso and enhances its image as omnipotent king. This statue sat in the deep niche at the back of Menkaura's Pyramid Temple located at the base of the eastern face of his pyramid until, for reasons unknown, it was deliberately destroyed. In January 1907, George Reisner found fragments from the shoulder and torso in a pit in that room and the large fragment comprising the hands, legs, and throne base in an adjacent corridor. Two months later, while excavating what proved to be a robber's trench nearby, Reisner found the head in nearly perfect condition. The different installations of Menkaura atthe MFA reflect the changing aesthetics of the Museum audience. When the fragments first arrived in the Museum, only the head and leg were exhibited. Two years later, additional torso pieces were added, and an abstract restoration of the missing torso elements was attempted. In 1925, at Reisner's request, the well-known watercolorist and artist for the expedition, Joseph Lindon Smith, sculpted the torso and buttocks in a more naturalistic manner. The restoration that visitors see today was accomplished in 1935 by Smith, assisted by Museum School student Charles Muskavitch.

    Multimedia

  • Water Jar (Hydra)

    Slide Notes

    Talk with students about what is shown on the hydra (focusing on the warrior and what he is wearing). Share that many works of art from ancient Greece show leaders and important figures as warriors, wearing helmets and/or carrying shields and weapons. Ask students what qualities they think of when they think of rulers and warriors (tough, courageous...) and if they know of any ancient Greek heroes/warriors that we still talk about today.

    Details

    Water jar (hydria) depicting a warrior and a woman making a libation

    about 500–490 B.C.

    Dimensions

    Height: 53 cm (20 7/8 in.); diameter: 32.5 cm (12 13/16 in.).

    Medium

    Ceramic, Red Figure technique

    Classification

    Vessels

    Accession Number

    98.878

    Collections
    The Ancient World
    On View
    Greek Archaic Gallery - 113 More Info

    Description

    This water jar (hydria) is decorated in two areas, the shoulder and the body, on which the main scene is depicted. The principal design shows a young warrior and a woman making a libation. The soldier pours wine from a phiale, a shallow ritual libation bowl, and the woman holds a wine pitcher (oinochoe) decorated with a floral band, from which she most likely has filled his vessel. This activity may be an offering accompanied by a prayer that the soldier remain safe in his battle, for which he is now departing. He wears a helmet, and his long hair streams down from underneath. He also wears a short tunic under his leather cuirass, and his scabbard is strapped over his shoulder. He also wears greaves on his shins, and has his shield leaned up against them. He holds his spear in his left hand. The woman wears a long dress and cloak (chiton and himation), a headcloth, and bracelets. A Greek inscription appears between the figures: "Lykos is handsome". On the shoulder of the vessel two lions attack a bull in a heraldic formation, one lion at the bull's rear and one at the front. Condition: Repaired with some restoration. Foot modern.

    Multimedia

  • Athena Parthenos

    Slide Notes

    Ask students if they have heard of the goddess Athena (or the city of Athens, named for her). Share that she is the goddess of wisdom, courage, law and justice, mathematics, arts and crafts. Talk with students about how she is shown in the statue, what she is wearing and her expression. 

    Details

    Statue of Athena Parthenos (the Virgin Goddess)

    2nd or 3rd century A.D.

    Dimensions

    Overall: 154 cm, 232.7 kg (60 5/8 in., 513 lb.) Stone (Dry mounted recessed 3 3/8" deep into Concrete base): 69.9 x 55.9 x 51.4 cm (27 1/2 x 22 x 20 1/4 in.) Mount (Concrete base dry mounted onto wooden pallet): 22.9 x 105.4 x 89.5 cm (9 x 41 1/2 x 35 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Marble from Mt. Pentelikon near Athens

    Classification

    Sculpture

    Accession Number

    1980.196

    Collections
    The Ancient World
    On View
    Classical Roman Gallery - 213 More Info

    Description

    Roman-period replica of the cult statue that once stood within the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis, a chryselephantine (gold and ivory) colossal statue designed by the master sculptor Phidias and . dedicated in 438 B.C. The goddess wears a helmet on which are remains of Pegasoi on either side flanking a sphinx of which only the paws remain; above the visor are parts of protomes, probably deer; griffins in relief on the cheek pieces. Curls frame the face, tresses fall on her shoulders. Gorgon on aegis which is edged by snakes; snakes encircle her waist forming knot at the center. Condition: The head and neck were carved of a lighter marble than the rest of the figure. Joins are confirmed by matching curls above the left shoulder and the hair below the helmet and on back of aegis. Restored areas include a small part of the left eyelid, tip of the nose and left nostril, much of the lower lip and the end of the chin, and the curl of hair on the right side of her neck, including a small portion of the curved lower end of the helmet. There are no restorations on the body. Traces of paint remain on the lower curls on Athena's left shoulder. Ancient iron pegs are visible in the troughs of the arms, along with larger dowel holes for fitting the arms and the weight they supported. Some surfaces were carefully cleaned long ago; others preserve good root marks. Scientific Analysis: Harvard Lab No. HI752: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.76 / delta18O -8.63, Attribution - Pentelikon, Justification - Sparkling, fine grained marble.

    Multimedia

  • Statue of Lady Sennuwy

    Slide Notes

    Talk about who Lady Sennuwy was (wife of an important governor) and talk about how she is shown (seated, with special hairstyle, holding something). Compare this statue to nearby one of Sekhmet and share about who Sekhmet was (warrior goddess). 

    Details

    Statue of Lady Sennuwy

    1971–1926 B.C.

    Dimensions

    Framed (The object sits on epoxy bed /structural steel pallet tubing): 21.6 x 62.2 x 116.2 cm (8 1/2 x 24 1/2 x 45 3/4 in.) Mount (Steel channel base with cross bracing 3" x 3/16"): 30.5 x 62.2 x 116.2 cm (12 x 24 1/2 x 45 3/4 in.) Overall (steel pallet and object, weighed): 170.2 x 116.2 x 47 cm, 1224.71 kg (67 x 45 3/4 x 18 1/2 in., 2700 lb.) Weight (Object and steel pallet with attaching steel base, estimate): 1319.97 kg (2910 lb.) Weight (Object (calculated by subtracting estimate of pallet weight)): 1079.56 kg (2380 lb.)

    Medium

    Granodiorite

    Classification

    Sculpture

    Accession Number

    14.720

    Collections
    The Ancient World
    On View
    Egyptian Colossal Gallery (Sculpture) - 209 More Info

    Description

    Egyptian officials of the Middle Kingdom continued the practice of equipping their tombs with statues to house the ka of the tomb owner and to provide a focal point for the offering cult. Highly ranked officials also dedicated statues of themselves at sanctuaries of gods and deified ancestors. Following the experimental and idiosyncratic interlude of the First Intermediate Period, sculptors once again produced large-scale stone statues, returning to the basic forms and poses established in the Old Kingdom. This elegant seated statue of Lady Sennuwy of Asyut is one of the most superbly carved and beautifully proportioned sculptures from the Middle Kingdom. The unknown artist shaped and polished the hard, gray granodiorite with extraordinary skill, suggesting that he was trained in a royal workshop. He has portrayed Sennuwy as a slender, graceful young woman, dressed in the tightly fitting sheath dress that was fashionable at the time. The carefully modeled planes of the face, framed by a long, thick, striated wig, convey a serene confidence and timeless beauty. Such idealized, youthful, and placid images characterize the first half of Dynasty 12 and hark back to the art of the Old Kingdom. Sennuwy sits poised and attentive on a solid, blocklike chair, with her left hand resting flat on her lap and her right hand holding a lotus blossom, a symbol of rebirth. Inscribed on the sides and base of the chair are hieroglyphic texts declaring that she is venerated in the presence of Osiris and other deities associated with the afterlife. Sennuwy was the wife of a powerful provincial governor, Djefaihapi of Asyut, whose rock-cut tomb is the largest nonroyal tomb of the Middle Kingdom. Clearly, the couple had access to the finest artists and materials available. It is likely that this statue, along with a similar sculpture of Djefaihapi, was originally set up in the tomb chapel, although they may also have stood in a sanctuary. Both statues were discovered, however, far to the south at Kerma in Nubia, where they had been buried in the royal tumulus of a Nubian king who lived generations after Sennuwy's death. They must have been removed from their original location and exported to Nubia some three hundred years after they were made. Exactly how, why, and when these pieces of sculpture, along with numerous other Egyptian statues, found their way to Kerma, however, is still unknown.

    Multimedia