The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

By W. Stevenson Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
THE MINOR ARTS AND FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE MIDDLE KINGDOM

If we turn to the minor arts it is clear that the jewellers of the Twelfth Dynasty had reached a level of technical skill never exceeded at any other period of Egyptian history. Typical of the period are the magnificent necklaces with their big beads of amethyst and carnelian and the marvellously neat precision with which semi-precious stones are inlaid into cloisons of gold. The finest pieces of jewellery come from the tombs of ladies of the royal family at Dahshur and Lahun and are exhibited in Cairo and in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.1 Two ivory-inlaid caskets which contained part of the Lahun treasure have been ingeniously reconstructed in New York.2 The contemporaneous jewels of Princess Sat-Hathor and Queen Mereret were buried under the floor of the lower gallery of the princesses near the Pyramid of Sesostris III at Dahshur in similar wooden boxes encrusted with gold. Perhaps the loveliest of all these pieces belonged to a lady of a generation earlier, the daughter of Amenemhat II, Princess Khnumet, who with another princess named Ita was buried beside their father's Dahshur pyramid. This is a crown of interlacing strands of gold wire dotted with star-shaped flowers and at regular intervals studded with larger crosses formed of four open papyrus flowers set round a central disk (Plate 79A). The airy lightness of the gold work must have allowed the tiny carnelian and turquoise inlays which formed the flowers to appear as though scattered through the hair of the wearer. This is a more sophisticated development of the simple circlet of twisted wire with strings of gold rosettes pendant upon the hair worn early in the Dynasty, probably in the reign of Amenemhat I, by a lady named Senebtisi, buried at Lisht.3 Ordinarily the effect must have been somewhat heavier, as in the lotus flower bands and the necklaces with their big pectorals4 worn by the ladies of the family of the Nomarch of Bersheh, Djehuty-hetep, in the relief from his tomb on Plate 74A or the boldly modelled hawk's heads from the ends of Khnumet's broad collar on Plate 80A. A second crown from Khnumet's tomb has lyre-shaped elements that seem to be derived from the volutes of the plant of Southern Egypt and the slender curling paired plant forms in the rosette of the Lahun crown of Sat-hathor-yunet5 (Plate 78B), a design that goes back at least to early Dynasty IV in the inlays of Queen Hetep-heres.

Both these crowns6 had rather clumsy erections at the back which mar the effect of the beautifully designed head-bands. That of Khnumet was in the form of a slender gold tube from which projected thin gold leaves. Sat-hathor-yunet had two plumes cut from heavier sheet gold, while similar streamers hung down at the sides and back with small gold tubes strung on the plaits of hair in between. Plate 79B is a detail of the front of the gold band to give an idea of the way in which the inlays were set in the regularly spaced flower rosettes and the cobra head which rears up above the forehead. The rosettes are

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