Statues of Amenhotep III in British Museum
One would think that it’s a bit pointless to visit a museum more than once. After all, they have a reputation of being a bit boring and the ‘general public’ (if they even exist) seem to think museums are very static. Wrong on both counts.
Through the years I have noticed that museums do not only alter their temporary exhibitions often (it’s in the name, after all), they also move their permanent display around every now and then and they have started to add modern technology and innovative displays to their repertoire.
In addition, people should also realise that they change too. Not only are you likely to notice things during your second visit that you never saw the first time around, you also learn. The result of that is that even things you may have seen several times all of a sudden seem more interesting.
This is what happened when I saw the statues of Amenhotep III in the British Museum a few weeks ago.
Earlier this year I wrote a review of Giovanni Battista Belzoni’s book about his travels through Egypt and Nubia. Until I read that book I hadn’t realised quite a few of the items he found had gone to the British Museum. One of my favourites, part of a rather large statue of Ramesses II, was the first thing he set out to find as ordered by Henry Salt.
At the time it was not unusual to mark an artifact to ensure people knew it was yours. The competition was strong (to put it mildly) and it could take some time before the larger artifacts could be moved. So it shouldn’t have surprised me to find Belzoni’s name on one of the statues.
The statue in question is one of Amenhotep III. In fact, there’s two of them, side by side, on the ground floor of the museum. Both of them were found and transported by Belzoni, who at the time worked for Henry Salt.
EA5, as one of them is known in the museum’s collection, is the only one of the two that is marked with Belzoni’s name. Statue EA4 is restored, as is clearly visible.
The strange thing is that I found that the information for both statues seems to have been swapped. It’s EA4 which doesn’t have any hieroglyphs on it, but its information states there’s text all over it. The online collection also seems incorrect in some places. For example: the website claims that on EA4 the name Belzoni is carved on the base, but it isn’t. It’s on EA5.
Another example: as you can see on the previous photo, there is no text on the pharaoh’s belt. This is statue EA4 – the restored statue of which the face is in tact.
On EA5 (I took a photo of the number on the statue to ensure I don’t mix them up) – the one with the damaged face – there is text on the belt.
Ultimately it doesn’t really matter if the information is correct or swapped, because these are two beautiful artifacts which can be enjoyed without any knowledge of them. I have to confess, however, that I prefer to know more about the things I see at museums. I would wholeheartedly advise anyone interested to have a look at the websites for EA4 and EA5, because they do give valuable insight in where these statues come from, who acquired them, how old they are, but also what restoration and preservation work has been done on them. Don’t think that statues are found, moved and simply put on display. It’s not that simple.
But enough about the museum’s work, let’s spare a few words for the subject of these beautiful statues. Who was Amenhotep III?
He was a late 18th Dynasty king who lived from 1390 to 1352 BC (1)). His father was Thutmose IV. It is believed he came to the throne as a child (the exact age is not known) and he reigned for 38 years. (2)
As far as we know his reign was peaceful and prosperous, at least at court. One of the sources I consulted ((1)) claims that, though peaceful, Amenhotep III’s reign was not completely successful because of is suspected disinterest in military achievements. Interesting in this respect is that his foreign correspondence is (at least partly) still available to us – the Amarna letters.
It is also believed he was deified during his lifetime. In the source I used for this (2) it is clearly stated that not everything is certain (what else can we expect for something which happened so long ago?), but it seems very likely Amenhotep III was seen as a god before his death.
He built a lot! Arguably the best known items to remain are the Colossi of Memnon. If you don’t know them by name, you may know them by reputation. They are the two massive statues which used to stand in front of the mortuary temple (Kom el-Heitan) which used to ‘sing’ at daybreak due to the multiple cracks in them. (3)
The two statues in the British Museum are from Thebes, where he also built a temple. His tomb is KV22 in the Valley of the Kings.
I have to admit I don’t know much about Amenhotep III at this time, but I expect that will change as this year’s subject on the online course I follow is the 18th Dynasty. Hopefully I will be able to get my hands on some books about him so I can inform you in more detail at a later time.
Nevertheless, the two statues in the British Museum have my interest and I can tell you they are not the only items in the museum which can be linked to him.
Those of you who have been to the British Museum may recall the enormous head on display (right next to a similarly enormous arm). That is also Amenhotep III.
In order to place him in history correctly I should also mention his son, Amenhotep IV, who became better known as Akhenaten. Yes, that pharaoh.
These were interesting times. And through Henry Salt, Giovanni Belzoni and the British Museum this has all come together for us to enjoy. If you ever find yourself in London, go to the British Museum (again, perhaps?) and have a look for yourself.
(1) Shaw, I and Nicholson, N., The illustrated dictionary of ancient Egypt, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 2008, p. 30-31
(2) Bryan, B.M., The 18th Dynasty before the Amarna period in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, ed. I. Shaw, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, p. 260-262
(3) Weeks, K.R., The temple of Amenhotep III in Valley of the Kings, ed. K. Weeks, White Star, Vercelli, 2011, p. 62-65