DYNASTY XI 2134-1991 B.C.
THE varied nature of the art of the Middle Kingdom typifies a new age of experiment and invention that grew out of the turbulence of the First Intermediate Period. It returned for strength to the forms of the Old Kingdom, but never recaptured the unity of the Memphite style. It anticipated the sophistication of the New Kingdom and began to look abroad, but without acquiring the international flavour of Dynasty XVIII. Its forms were a little stiff, changing from one locality to another and here and there retaining the provincial mannerisms that are everywhere evident in its earlier phases. Nonetheless there was the power to achieve a meticulous delicacy of craftsmanship as well as a disturbingly brutal strength. At their best the craftsmen showed not only great sensitivity to line, colour, and modelling, but also an intuition of character of which the seemingly happier world of the Old Kingdom had appeared scarcely conscious. While evident in the literature of the early reigns of Dynasty XII which reflects the pessimism of the hard times that extended from the end of Dynasty VI well into the first half of Dynasty XI, this interest in man's feelings towards his environment does not appear to have found expression in sculpture until later in Dynasty XII in the extraordinary heads of Kings Sesostris III and Amenemhat III. These portraits are exceptional in Egyptian art, which at all times showed a reluctance to portray inner feeling. In other ways the Middle Kingdom seems not to have lasted sufficiently long to resolve all its contradictions. This was in one sense a virtue, since much of the initial freshness and vigour was retained until the end of Dynasty XII. Viewed in a broad perspective the early New Kingdom seems to continue a development that was under way in Dynasty XII and was taken up again after the break of the Second Intermediate Period. However, if we examine each period in detail, it will be seen that Dynasty XI and early Dynasty XVIII were times of a renewal of Egyptian civilization, both having much in common with the brilliant Archaic Period that preceded the Old Kingdom.
The rule of the first kings of Dynasty XI did not extend farther north than Abydos in Upper Egypt, and the Middle Kingdom was not really founded until the Two Lands were united by Neb-hepet-ra Mentuhotep1 after the subjugation of Lower Egypt about 2052 B.C. This king is certainly the outstanding personality of the early Middle Kingdom. We know him as the builder of a highly original structure, his funerary monument at Deir el Bahari on the western bank at Thebes (Plate 91; Figure 39),2 which inspired the terraced temple that Queen Hatshepsut built beside it in the Eighteenth Dynasty. It consisted of a pyramid in the midst of a columned hall and set on a raised platform fronted by porticoes and approached by a ramp. The outer wall of the hall or ambulatory around the pyramid was in turn surrounded by a pillared portico.