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Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut and Large Kneeling Statue, New Kingdom, Egypt

Video transcript

we're in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in the section devoted to the art of ancient Egypt and we're looking at an enormous granite sculpture this is a sculpture of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut we think of Pharaohs that is ancient Egyptian kings as male and of course the vast majority were there had been a long tradition in ancient Egypt of women assuming enormous authority in the position of regent that is as a mother or a member of the royal family who would reign until a male ruler reached an age where they could actually assume power those women were very powerful but had chips it is unusual she assumes the authority of king of Pharaoh she created a whole mythology around her kingship that described her divine birth the way that an Oracle had predicted that she would become king she will need it for more than two decades she commissioned a remarkable number of temples of sculptures she was interested in the power of art to convey royal authority and no building speaks to the authority of the King more than the mortuary temple the sculpture that we're looking at was actually made for this mortuary temple there were anywhere from six or eight or ten of these kneeling figures there were also representations of hatshepsut's a sphinx which lined the center of the lower court yard of her mortuary temple and that temple is an extraordinary place it is built directly against this vast cliff face I can't think of a more dramatic environment for architecture those cliffs are towering and their organic qualities are in such contrast to the regular order and structure of the built environment this is hewn right from the living rock and that sense of permanence that sense of stability that's expressed by that wall of living Rock is a perfect expression of the very sense of stability that we think of such it and her dynasty were trying to reassert after period of instability this was the beginning of the New Kingdom in ancient Egyptian history we talk about three major periods the Old Kingdom the Middle Kingdom in the New Kingdom and these periods are separated by periods we call intermediate periods these were periods of relative chaos often when Egypt was divided in its rule or was ruled by external rulers the representations of kingship in ancient Egyptian art are almost two millennia old by the time we get to had chaps it and so what she can do is adopt those forms to show herself as king these forms were easily recognizable that is symmetry its embeddedness in the stone we see that there's no space between her arms and her torso or between her legs there's a real sense of timelessness year but there are also more specific symbols the head cloth that she wears is a symbol of the king there would have originally been a Cobra we have the beard that we associate with kingship we're talking about a visual language here and this visual language of kingship was male in fact there is no word for queen in the Egyptian language the term is Kings wife or Kings mother her body is represented in a relatively masculine way her breasts are de-emphasized for example she's got broad shoulders the inscriptions that were on the many of these sculptures use a feminine form and so the representation itself is masculine but the identifying words the hieroglyphs identify her as female about 20 years after her CHEP's who died the pharaoh who she had been co-ruler with systematically destroyed all images of hatshepsut's that would not have been an easy matter you wouldn't have simply top of the sculpture and it would have shattered into so many pieces this is made of granite incredibly hard stone it would have been very difficult to produce and it would have been very difficult to destroy well and not only that but a chap said had commissioned hundreds of images of herself and so it would have taken a long time to destroy these sculptures this was an intentional act but we're not really sure why this happened we do know that that the fragments were discovered in the early 20th century thanks to an excavation undertaken by the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is why they are here and what we're seeing are series of monumental sculptures that have been put back together but some of this is guesswork we don't know if one particular fragment goes with one sculpture versus another so when we look at those sculptures we see her in a range of positions and some she's kneeling and some she's standing and some she's seated in some she's represented as a sphinx a king only would kneel of course to a god and that really helps us place this sculpture along the processional path so once a year there was a ritual involving a sculpture of a God now we have to remember that for Egyptians the sculpture of the God was the embodiment of the God and temples were houses for a god and so once a year the sculpture of the primary god Amun Rey was taken from the temple in Thebes on the eastern side of the Nile and carried across the river on a ceremonial bark on a shrine that was shaped like a boat as though he were travelling literally across the Nile from the eastern side the land of the living toward the land of the dead and he would be carried up this causeway toward the temple and his primary shrine in the mortuary temple at the very top centre and that sculpture would have then spent one night in that shrine before it would have been returned across the river and so it makes sense then that you would have this representation of Hatshepsut's on her knees making an offering these two bowls or jars that she holds are an offering to the God because the God pass in front of these sculptures who are not just cultures though embodiments of had chub soup it's interesting how the scholarship that surrounds this ruler has changed early in the 20th century for example the destruction of the images of this ruler were associated with with the idea that she was out of place that she was a usurper and she was seen very much in a negative she's seen much more sympathetically now in the early 21st century and there were women or for hurt upset who asserted themselves as kings and there were a few women after her but had chips had had enormous power enormous influence the sculptures the architecture that she commissioned set an important standard and inspiration for all the later work of the New Kingdom imagine walking past these enormous sculptures of hatch epson this is all about procession this is all about pageantry this is all about expressing the power of the kink kneeling like this is not something you can do for more than a minute or two it's hard on the toes it's hard on the knees so this is a position that someone would only take very temporarily and yet there's something very eternal about the sculpture something very permanent this is not a figure who engages us he's in the world but who lives in the eternal this is an image of a king who is also a God