Egyptian Art: Selected Writings of Bernard V. Bothmer

By Corcoran, Lorelei H. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2007 | Go to article overview

Egyptian Art: Selected Writings of Bernard V. Bothmer


Corcoran, Lorelei H., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Egyptian Art: Selected Writings of Bernard V. Bothmer. By Bernard V. Bothmer, edited by Madeleine E. Cody. Oxford: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2004. Pp. xxii + 517, illus.

In the editorial preface to this homage to the contributions by Bernard V. Bothmer to the study of Egyptian art, James Romano states that the intent of its publication was "to emphasize his [Bothmer's] object-based methodology in contrast to current approaches that stress theoretical methodology over connoisseurship." In truth, Bothmer's primary contributions to the discipline were: 1) the establishment of demanding standards for the accurate description of works of Egyptian art and the coinage of a precise terminology to achieve it, and 2) the codification of rules developed by Hans Wolfgang Mueller for the photographic recording of such works of art. The refinement of these mechanisms was an achievement that earned for Bothmer a unique position as a pioneer in the history of Egyptology for his efforts to catalog, to bring order to, and to maintain control over a vast corpus of material produced over several millennia during the history of a culture dedicated to the production of sculpture, relief, and painting on a scale from minute to monumental. Nevertheless, one must acknowledge that the field of Egyptian art history lags woefully behind any other area of the study of art from a theoretical perspective and that, although historically significant, Bothmer's work is, as a product of its time, dated in terms of the interests of many current scholars.

Two essays introduce the articles of Bothmer collected in this elegant and lavishly produced book. The first and more lengthy of them is by T. G. H. James, former Keeper of the Egyptian Collection at the British Museum and an associate of Bothmer. The second is by Rita Freed, Norma-Jean Calderwood Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a former graduate student of Bothmer's when, toward the end of his life, he was named the first Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Egyptian Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. James' essay is an insider's biography of Bothmer written by one who, like Bothmer, lived through the era of pre-and post-Nazi Germany and who speaks, therefore, firsthand of the curtailments imposed during those times on artistic, scholarly, and personal freedom. It would be of great value if a history were to be written someday of the ways in which both World Wars affected the history of Egyptology as a science, but the sentiments in James' essay reference feelings that could be considered overly personal in nature, and his allusions to the gossip by and about long-dead museum staff members and unkind characterizations of noted scholars that are couched in terms of his opinion of what the late Bothmer's opinions might have been seem, within the context of this book, maladroit.

The essay by Freed has more of an objective tone, particularly noteworthy since those who studied with Bothmer seem to have been profoundly affected by him as witnessed by her admission that "to his students Bernard Bothmer was as much a strong parent as he was a charismatic teacher." James, who praises Bothmer as a teacher, notes that Freed epitomizes the Bothmer student, as she was one of those of the class Bothmer trained at NYU, which became "in due course the present generation of Egyptological art historians, many of whom occupy senior positions in America and elsewhere." Those senior positions one might observe, however, are not exclusively university professorships but curatorial posts like those Bothmer held for the major part of his life, and one can now only speculate how that will affect Bothmer's long-term influence on the future of Egyptian art history.

The thirty-one articles that form the body of this book cover topics that span the breadth of Egyptian history. Some are groundbreaking articles that document the most passionate interests of Bothmer and his mission to ensure that the art that was produced during the final years of ancient Egypt's lengthy history be accorded the scholarly attention and the value he felt it deserved.

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