With support from the Penn Museum, I was able to further the research I began in 2014 on the statuary of the pharaoh Senwosret III and his son Amenemhet III. This July, I traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to view a series of statues and statue fragments that I will be including in my dissertation, which focuses of the relationship between royal sculpture and coregency during the reigns of these two kings.
Senwosret III ruled during Egypt’s 12th Dynasty, the highpoint of the Middle Kingdom, which began just after the reunification of the country towards the end of the 11th Dynasty. Royal sculpture dating to the early 12tg Dynasty drew heavily on Old Kingdom models in an effort to help legitimize the newly reunified state. However, an artistic shift soon began that culminated with the very distinctive style of Senwosret III. This period was also a turning point for many aspects of Egyptian culture – important governmental changes took place, royal hymns appeared for the first time, new religious/funerary traditions emerged, and a re-centralization of private art occurred.
Amenemhet I, the founder of the 12th Dynasty, was the first to institute the concept of coregency in order to further cement the stability of the new dynasty; it quickly became a distinctive feature of kingship during this period. The scholarly opinion on the existence of coregencies remains divided, although much of the background research I conducted in preparation for this trip favors the practice. The evidence for a coregency between Senwosret III and Amenemhet III, is considerable; it includes inscriptions referring to both kings and objects juxtaposing their names, as well as archaeological and architectural features. This material indicates a roughly 20-year period of co-rule during which time both kings would have produced a considerable number of royal sculptures. One of my primary objectives for examining the statuary of these two rulers is to identify features that might betray a coregency style.
This is easier said then done. Unfortunately the majority of the preserved material dating to Senwosret III and his son is unprovenanced (meaning no one really knows where it originally came from) and there is not a single example with a fixed date. These factors make it extremely difficult to establish any sort of stylistic timeline that could aid in dating objects to the period of co-rule. The MFA and the Walters are just two of many museums I am in the process of visiting in order to examine – in person – as many examples of the royal sculpture of these two kings as possible. Studying the features of each object and creating a detailed catalogue is essential for assessing all of these works on equal terms. It is only after a thorough analysis of the iconographic and stylistic traits present within the corpus that it will be possible to evaluate the potential existence of a coregency style.
While I was in Boston, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Denise Doxey, Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art (and a Penn alum), and to examine fragments from four depictions of Senwosret III and three of Amenemhet III. While it is always amazing to be able to work with nearly 4,000-year-old objects first-hand, this group was particularly significant as the attribution of three of the statues remains contested. This is also the case for Walters Art Museum no. 22.351. Unfortunately, both of the objects I needed to see in Baltimore were on exhibition – which is wonderful for those of you who might find yourselves there in the future – but was not so great for me. Since the museum was open to the public on the day of my visit it was not possible to remove the vitrines that protect these two statues. Regardless, I was still able to have a close look at the features of these two images; however, the reflective surface of the vitrines made it much more difficult to get quality research images – fortunately, the Walters Collections Management Team was able to provide some.
The main purpose for this trip was to be able to view these objects in person. While amassing a strong collection of research images is also important, nothing can compare to a first-hand assessment. When you are looking at a photograph, you are viewing the object from the perspective of the photographer as both angle and lighting have a strong influence over the features of these sculptures. In addition you are seeing only the aspects that seemed important to the individual who took the photos. Fine details such as flecks of paint, delicate furrows, and facial modeling may be obscured. Further, for a number of the pieces in this corpus the only available photographs are old, low-resolution, black and white images that make it almost impossible to see any detail. It is also best to record any inscriptional evidence yourself so that you can properly justify the translations you provide.
As I work towards completing this study, I am currently preparing for a second research trip this fall that will allow me to visit several museums in Europe and the UK. I am also hoping to travel to Cairo next summer to put the final touches on this catalogue.