Revamped permanent exhibition

The Museum of Fine Arts’ renewed Egyptian permanent exhibition can now be seen in a new arrangement set out on a larger area and supplemented with new acquisitions. The new concept differs from the usual chronological arrangement thus far employed and ancient Egypt is now presented thematically – organised into sections titled “People”, “The Gods” and “The Dead” – in a spectacular way, while the most important information relating to the period is discussed in a comprehensible and at the same time scientifically sound and accurate way. Standing out among the new acquisitions is a fragment of a wall relief measuring over two metres in height and originating from an Old Kingdom tomb (c. 2,200 BC), which was purchased by the museum this year with state support to the tune of 100 million forints. The origin of the artefact – which entered the museum as the most expensive purchase in the history of the collection – was thus far unknown; however, the Egyptologists of the Museum of Fine Arts have recently been able to identify it as being in Southern Sakkara, located some 30 kilometres south of Cairo.

The rearranged permanent exhibition of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities displaying almost 500 artefacts has broken with tradition and the new show now does not follow a chronological order. By converting the Egyptian exhibition space at the basement level visitors will now find three exhibition halls instead of two. The addition of a hall allowed us to implement the thematic division of the material.

Relief fragment from the tomb of Haunefer, Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty (end of the 3rd millennium BC)

This thematic division treats the most important information related to ancient Egypt in a spectacular way that is comprehensible for visitors and at the same time scientifically accurate. Dividing the exhibition into three chapters made it possible to present the three fundamental spheres that form part of the Egyptians’ worldview: people, the gods and the dead. The three spheres are distinct from one another, although according to Egyptian belief and in religious practice continuous communication existed among them. In addition to presenting the typical characteristics of the three groups, the new permanent exhibition devotes special attention to illustrating the various methods that were used in the communication between the spheres.

At the centre of attention is people in the first hall, the gods in the second one and the world of the dead in the third. The colour of each hall – green, blue and red – corresponds to ancient Egyptian colour symbolism. At the entrance to each of the halls a bi-lingual text describes each of the three themes (people/the gods/the dead), and within each hall separate texts can also be found on the smaller thematic units, while additional bi-lingual texts are placed next to some of the highlighted artefacts to guide visitors.

Hall Nr. 1 (“People”)
According to plans, new artefacts with different themes will be displayed approximately twice a year in the glass cabinet located to the right of the hall’s entrance. From time to time artefacts will be placed here which render available new scientific findings made during the course of restoration or archeometric analyses. The glass cabinet to the left of the entrance will present information on the digs at Thebes, which were begun in 1983 (i. e. thirty years ago) by Professor László Kákosy of the Egyptology Department at ELTE University.

The themes of hall nr. 1 are “Creation”, “Pharaoh”, “Sculpture Portraits”, “Writing”, “Ancient Egyptian Vessels”, “Everyday Life”, and “Magic in Everyday Life”.

Before the entrance to the second hall, closing the middle block of the first hall stands a partitioning glass case in which visitors will be able to view a crucially important means of communication between people and the gods/the dead, the funerary stela, as well as an ancestor bust performing the same function (acquisition in 2012).

Hall Nr. 2 (“The Gods”)
Continuing the closing theme of the first hall (“Stelae”), the introductory piece of the second hall is also a large stela, depicting the link between the pharaoh and a god through an offering scene. Hall nr. 2 presents the world of gods and Egyptian temples. Positioned to the right of the entrance are large stone blocks decorated in relief that originate from a temple wall, while to the left are niches along the wall furnished with statues of animal- and human-shaped Egyptian gods. Employing niches evokes the atmosphere of one of the possible ways in which statues were placed in ancient temples and home shrines.

The main thematic units of hall nr. 2 are “Ritual Tools”, “Temple and Funerary Offerings”, “Hawk-shaped Gods” and “The Cult of Osiris”.

Hall Nr. 3 (“The Dead”)
The third hall brings the world of the dead before visitors: the funerary equipment used in tombs and the afterlife as the Egyptians imagined it. Two mummies and several of the painted coffins preserved in the collection can be seen in this hall, too. The thematic units of the hall are “The Journey to the Underworld”, “Anubis” (the jackal-shaped god of the underworld), “Heart Scarabs”, “Shabtis and Canopic Jars”, “Animal Mummies” and “Mummy Decorations”.

The new storage vaults behind the rearranged Egyptian permanent exhibition are equipped at a high standard and according to plans will be open on special occasions for visitors who will be guided by the Egyptologists of the department.

The new acquisition
The highlighted artefact in hall nr. 3 – a large 220 x 46 cm fragment of a wall relief from an Old Kingdom tomb (c. 2,200 BC) – is also the most recent acquisition of the Department. The fragment has been in Europe for a long time and was presumably brought from Egypt during the 19th century or in the first half of the 20th. The Museum of Fine Arts purchased the artefact from a London antiquities dealer in 2013 with substantial state support.


Relief fragment from the tomb of Haunefer Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty (end of the 3rd millennium BC)

The sitting figure of the erstwhile owner of the tomb can be seen on the fragment and from the two hieroglyphic texts (six lines each) it transpires that the person in question was called Hau and was a “reciting priest”. This means that he was a relatively high-ranking scribe, since it was his responsibility to recite the sacred texts of rituals that were preserved in the temples. The origin of the wall fragment was so far unknown, but the Egyptologists of the Museum of Fine Arts recently identified its origin as Southern Sakkara, and concluded that the piece came from Haunefer’s tomb. (The name Hau on the newly acquired fragment is a shortened version of Haunefer. Shortening names and nicknaming was an accepted tradition in ancient Egypt, which we have been able to ascertain since traces of this practice have often remained on written mementos.) A French archaeological expedition is presently working in the tomb and its environs in Southern Sakkara by the Nile, and they have confirmed the research findings of the Hungarian Egyptologists.

Ancient East display cabinet – in the wall niche of the entrance hall of the Egyptian exhibition
It is a little known fact that the Department of Egyptian Antiquities of the Museum of Fine Arts also has valuable material from the ancient East. This material is displayed in the wall niche at the entrance hall of the permanent Egyptian exhibition. The artefacts are arranged in three thematic units – Mesopotamia, the Levant and Iran. At the centre are objects with cuneiform script, but alongside these small sculptures and coins are also exhibited here. In addition to the material from the Museum of Fine Arts’ Department of Egyptian Antiquities, objects on loan from the museum’s Department of Ancient Antiquities, the Hungarian National Museum, the collection of ELTE University’s Department of Assyrology and various private collections can also be seen.