A little of my time here is also spent at the Eton Myers collection of Egyptian Antiquities, a wonderful collection of objects, many of them made of faience. My nine year old self (fascinated by ancient Egypt and fully determined to learn hieroglyphics) would have been as thrilled and awed to get to see this collection up close as I am today. Just as when I was working with the Archaeology Museum, I couldn’t really believe that I would actually get to touch these truly ancient objects – but here I am, having worked to help expand the information on the different objects for database. I have also gotten the opportunity to write a small essay about collecting ancient Egyptian objects in the late 19th/early 20th century, but mainly focusing on one particular shabti figure that you’ll get to hear and see more of soon enough.
The Eton Myers Collection consists mainly of decorative art, objects that were small enough for the original collector, Major William Joseph Myers, to transport himself. Upon his death he bequeathed his collection to Eton College, where he’d once been a student.
I found it very interesting to get to know more about the manufacturing process. The classic Egyptian blue colour (a sort of very pigmented turquoise) was attained by using copper (image below), while the darker blue colour, meant to imitate the exceptionally expensive lapis lazuli, was achieved with cobalt (image below). The process of burning the faience glaze could of course also go wrong, as it had in a couple of the objects in this collection. These objects would in all probability not have been used (they were created for use in tombs), but tell a story that in many ways is at least as interesting as the perfect pieces. The faulty objects can tell us about the manufacturing process, but also allow us to glimpse the craftsman as a human being capable of fault. That way, faulty objects from ancient times can somehow bring us closer to the people of the time than completed objects sometimes do.
What I also found fascinating while Stephanie, who looks after the collection, and I discussed the different objects was to see the progression of certain traditions and rites and how that evolution affected the objects. I will write more about this when I do a post about the shabti figure that I’m writing about, but I’ll give another example now. The four sons of Horus were seen as guardians of different organs in the body. Their heads (a man, a jackal, a baboon and a falcon) formed the lids of canopic jars used to hold the organs after mummification. As the mummification process got more efficient and professionally done, the need for separate jars for the organs disappeared – but the protection that the four sons of Horus gave to the dead person’s organs was still desired. Thus, instead of using canopic jars, amulets of them were created and placed by the organs they were thought to protect. Thus the protection, the main aim of the choice of motif, is maintained even though the rest of the aspects have changed.