I had to give a lecture to a college class," Rita Freed says,
"choosing one piece of Egyptian sculpture that explained all
Dr. Freed has been curator of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts
department of Egyptian and ancient Near Eastern art for 7-1/2 years.
The piece she chose was the "Statue of King Mycerinus and His
Queen Kamerernebty," an outstanding example of Old Kingdom
(2630-2250 BC), Pyramid Age sculpture.
"Boston," Freed says, "is second only to Cairo in art of the
She describes this statue as "absolutely stunning ... something
that captures you as you walk by.
"It says everything you need to know about Egyptian art. Yet it
comes at a relatively early stage - from the fourth out of 31
dynasties. It really expresses the ancient Egyptian ideal.
"The figures are about two-thirds life-size. Look at those
bodies! Not one bit of flab on the king, the muscles on his arms,
legs, and chest beautifully developed - an emblem of his strength
and power. And the queen - absolutely svelte...."
Their faces, too, are faultless: "unlined, perfect, ideal - and,
moreover, aloof. These are not friendly, warm faces. They don't
look at you. They look beyond - into eternity.
"And their poses pick up on that. While she holds him, she does
so in a very formal, hieroglyphic way. There's no attraction. Her
touching him indicates affiliation - that they belong together. But
emotion didn't exist in Old Kingdom art. Not in royal sculpture."
This "eternal aloofness" was an ideal to which later Egyptian
dynasties kept coming back, Freed observes. It was the belief that
"the king was god. People worshiped the office of kingship. He was
the great Horus - the great god on earth.
"We know he is a king because his attributes tell us so. He
wears the royal headcloth - the nemes - and the royal beard.
Ordinarily, an inscription would confirm his royalty, but this
piece was unfinished. The most likely reason is that the king died
unexpectedly. The fact that parts of Mycerinus's pyramid - the
Third Pyramid - complex were completed very hurriedly in mud brick
instead of the normal limestone, supports this idea."
"The MFA excavated this piece in 1910. For nearly 40 years,
between 1905 and 1942, we worked at Giza. We had been awarded
permission to excavate in the area of the Third Pyramid by the
Egyptian government when the Giza plateau was divided among
"The Third Pyramid is the smallest and least prepossessing, but
it was also the least plundered. It yielded the finest material. …