I never thought that the topics of graphic novels and ancient Egyptian archaeology would ever come up in the same post, but it seems that they will now. One example (out of many, many examples) of a council being idiotic has been playing away in the news for a few weeks, but now I thought that it would make an interesting post, what with the introduction of Alan Moore- of ‘Watchmen’ and ‘V for Vendetta’ fame- to the fray.
Northampton Borough Council has decided that the best way for it to raise the eight-figure sum that it needs to cover the cost of “a new entrance to the Guildhall Road site, new galleries, a Shoe Resource Centre, education spaces and retail, food and drink facilities as part of the town’s Cultural Quarter” (according to culture24.org.uk) is to sell an Egyptian statue in its collection. This 4,500-year-old statue of Sekhemka was collected by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850, and donated to the people of the city by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880. His descendant Lord Northampton has reached an agreement to share the proceeds of the sale with the council, and it is expected to make £6m at Christie’s on 10th July.
Here is a description taken from the sale catalogue:
Lot 10. AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA
OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C.
Depicted seated, wearing a tight-fitting wig with rows of carefully-cut curls, his expressive face intact and beautifully carved with subtly moulded brows, his eyes looking slightly downward, with a short nose and a softly modelled mouth, the slightly smiling lips outlined by a raised vermillion line, wearing a short pleated kilt with a knotted belt and a pleated tab angled above, holding a partially unrolled papyrus scroll on his lap with a hieroglyphic inscription listing twenty-two varied offerings, his powerful bare chest with clearly indicated collar bones, muscular arms and strong legs, his hands finely detailed, a hieroglyphic inscription on the seat reading: “Inspector of the scribes of the house of the master of largess, one revered before the great god, Sekhemka”; to his right, his wife in much smaller scale kneeling, her left leg bent elegantly beneath her right, her left arm tenderly embracing Sekhemka’s right leg, wearing a tight-fitting ankle-length dress, the accompanying inscription reading: “The one concerned with the affairs of the king, one revered before the great god, Sitmeret”; to his left a young man sculpted in raised relief, most probably his son, with an inscription reading: “Scribe of the master of largess, Seshemnefer”; the three sides of the cubic seat sculpted in shallow raised relief with a ceremonial procession of male offering bearers bringing a duck, geese, a calf, lotus flowers, unguent and incense
29 ½ in. (75 cm.) high; 12 ¼ in. (31.2 cm.) wide; 17 3/8 in. (44.1 cm.) deep
Estimate: £4-6 million ($6,784,000-10,176,000)
Probably from the Royal Cemeteries, Saqqara.
Acquired by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850.
Presented to the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery by either Charles Douglas-Compton, 3rd Marquess of Northampton (1816-1877) or Admiral William Compton, 4th Marquess of Northampton (1818-1897).
The Northampton Museum, Northampton, general exhibition, 1866–1899.
The Abington Museum, Northampton, Egyptian room, 1899–1950s.
General exhibition, Northampton Central Museum, Northampton, from 1960.
The Abington Museum, Northampton, Ancient Egypt – Land of Mystery, 1977.
Northampton Central Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, Mummies and Megaliths – the Bronze Age in Britain and Egypt, 1983.
Northampton Central Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, Ancient Egypt: The Northampton Collection, 1988.
General exhibition, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, 2001-2012.
However, the Museums Association has warned that Northamptons future loans and fundraising prospects would be in jeopardy if the sale goes ahead, as members of the Arts Council are allowed to exchange items with other accredited venues and apply for grants and funding, but14m from once they have their share of the sale proceeds, if their most likely source of funding will be cut following the sale. Ironically, Councillor Brandon Eldred, of Northampton Borough Council, said before a ‘public consultation’ in 2012 that the money from the sale would be used to to a wider audience.
“The statue of Sekhemka is a valuable asset and we do appreciate its significance as an artefact,” he insisted. Hmmm.
“But we have decided to sell it and reinvest the money back into developing Northampton Museum and other parts of our cultural heritage. Every penny raised will go into projects that help to tell the story of our town’s history.”
Hmmm. I can’t help but feel that Northampton are shooting themselves in the foot somewhat with this. What could surely be made into a major attraction for people to the museum is being taken away in favour of what sounds to be a mediocre and somewhat substance-less redevelopment that would take away much of the heritage of the place.
Now, I hear you shout- where does the bearded cartoon god come in? Well, read this:
Image: Northants Herald & Post / Save Sekhemka Action Group (Facebook page)
I think that he makes a valid argument, to be honest. Why would you willingly donate to an institution that is happy to sell its collections and donations to raise funds rather than raising them in the usual ways? Collect donations, charge entry, receive grants. I hope that the museum doesn’t manage to raise the rest of the money needed, and that the statue is purchased by another museum or institution to show Northampton up.
It seems that the Christie’s catalogue actually provides quite a bit of information regarding the statue. This text is taken from nordonart.wordpress.com, which quotes from the sale catalogue extensively.
SCULPTURE IN THE OLD KINGDOM 2500 B.C. – ETERNITY
Life after death was the primary belief in ancient Egypt and preparing for one’s welfare after death was the project of a lifetime. A tomb needed to be built, funerary equipment had to be arranged, and the mortuary cult needed to be performed. Aside from the royal family, only the elite had the resources to fully realise these demands. The tomb was made in two parts, comprising a substructure where the sarcophagus was placed, and a superstructure with decorated rooms and chapels. It was a favour of the king to be permitted to have a sumptuously decorated tomb, given only to esteemed members of the administration. Artisans from the royal workshop would create the colourfully decorated walls and lifelike statues representing the deceased and his family.
Group sculptures representing the royal family are known since the early Dynastic period, circa 3000-2650 B.C. A relief fragment from Heliopolis shows an early depiction of king Djoser with his family gathered around his legs. The intimate attitude of the wife kneeling on the ground, her legs tucked to one side, her arm around her husband’s legs was reserved only for royal women in the 4th dynasty (circa 2600-2450 B.C.). Only in the 5th dynasty did non-ruling members of the royal family adopt this style, as with the example of the statue of princess Nebibnebty and her husband Seankhuptah, dating to circa 2450-2300 B.C. This type was subsequently gradually adopted by high officials and entered private statuary shortly after.
Only one other statue is attributed to Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes, and is in the Brooklyn Museum. The kneeling figure is made of diorite, the base is in limestone, painted to imitate diorite and is decorated as an offering table. It is suggested that Sekhemka may have had a discarded royal sculpture repaired and a base added to it. The similar quality of the carving between this and the present lot certainly serves to link the two pieces. Moreover, both statues were brought out of Egypt at around the same time; Dr. Henry Abbott, the original owner of the Brooklyn Sekhemka, returned with his collection in 1851.
On the front of the cubic seat, to the right of Sekhemka, is a figure of a young man, Seshemnefer, walking to the left. He is depicted nude, a sign of youth, and holds a large lotus flower with long stem in his left hand, the symbol of rebirth. As well as providing his name, the hieroglyphic inscription above his head identifies him as a scribe of the master of largess, which suggests that he worked in the same office as his father. That such a young man already has a work title may appear incongruous, however this is a depiction of Sekhemka’s son as an idealized youth. His presence reinforces the carefully constructed image of an idyllic, young and fecund family.
SITMERIT AND INTIMACY IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Sekhemka’s wife, Sitmerit, meaning literally “The Daughter of Merit”, is shown kneeling to his right. Though diminutive in scale, her refined features are stately and beautiful. Her imposing wide wig frames her round face, whilst rows of straight and curling natural hair appear on her forehead. Her eyes gaze upwards, in the same direction as Sekhemka’s. She is wearing a tight-fitted white linen dress, revealing the shape of her body. The dress was patterned in blue and orange around her breasts, as the remains of pigment behind her shoulders reveal. Her wrists and ankles are adorned with bracelets and traces of a broad collar are visible on her neck. She is delicately embracing her husband’s right leg, with her left hand carved on the inside of his calf.
Canons in Egyptian art were established by the royal family and followed by the elite, who were always trying to emulate their sovereign. Although appearing quite static at first glance, representations of royal and private couples always have an element of intimacy, showing conjugal affection. In the 4th dynasty, the wife is only touching her husband with one hand, but by the 5th dynasty, she will be gently brushing his calf with her fingertips. Later examples show husband and wife holding hands, arm in arm, or even embracing by the shoulders.
Here, the position of Sitmerit’s body, as well as her composed expression is perhaps what gives peacefulness and harmony to this family portrait. It shows the close link between husband and wife, and their attachment to their family. The smaller scale is not a symbol of women’s place in society; rather, it is an artistic choice, for women had an equal status with men. She provides the love and support that her family needs. She prompts desire, gives life, and watches over her loved ones. She has a protective role and is the grounding force for the family.
Sekhemka holds a papyrus scroll open on his lap. The hieroglyphic inscription lists offerings, with much detail about type and quantity, including food, beverages, unguents and liquids, incense and cosmetics, funerary equipment and royal gifts. These are the essential offerings that Sekhemka will need to subsist comfortably in in the afterlife.
Festival perfume, one jar
Hekenu-oil, one jar
Sefet-oil, one jar
Nehenem-oil, one jar
Tuaut-oil, one jar
First quality cedar oil, one jar
First quality Libyan oil, one jar
Green eye-paint, one bag
Black eye-paint, one bag
Cloth strips, a pair
Cool water; two pellets (of natron)
Royal offering, two cakes (?)
Royal offering of the hall, two cakes (?)
Breakfast, bread and beer
One Nemeset-jar of beer