Gazing into Eternity the MFA's Collection Includes Fine Examples of European and American Paintings, Asian Art, and Old Kingdom Egyptian Artifacts. in Two Weeks, This Series Will Continue with Curator Interviews at London's Tate Gallery. Series: Curators' Tour: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Fifth in a Series
Andreae, Christopher, The Christian Science Monitor
I had to give a lecture to a college class," Rita Freed says, "choosing one piece of Egyptian sculpture that explained all Egyptian sculpture."
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 Pyramid Age." 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 different countries." "The Third Pyramid is the smallest and least prepossessing, but it was also the least plundered. It yielded the finest material. …