Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Girl with a Pearl Earring revealed Tuesday

Friday, April 24th, 2020

In 2018, the Mauritshuis museum performed an in-depth scientific examination of Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665). The last time it had been thoroughly examined was during a 1994 conservation, and technology has grown by leaps and bounds since then. The goal of the Girl in the Spotlight project was to discover new information about the master’s brushstrokes and impasto, about his use of pigments, oils, canvas and other materials.

The research was conducted in public view in a specially-made glass enclosure in the museum’s Golden Room gallery. Over the course of two weeks, a team of specialists deployed state-of-the-art technology including MA-XRF scanning, optical coherence tomography and digital microscopy to analyze the painting. The project was documented in daily posts by lead conservator Abbie Vandivere on the outstanding Girl with a Blog, which is a wonderland of information about Vermeer, his most famous work and the latest conservation practices.

More than two years have passed since the project’s conclusion, and during that time researchers have published individual reports focusing on one particular aspect of Girl with a Pearl Earring in the journal Heritage Science. Now the full results of the technical examination have been published and the Mauritshuis is making a bit of a fanfare about it, putting up a placeholder for a web page dedicated to revealing the findings. On Tuesday, April 28th, the page will go live.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got a little time on your hands to do a deep dive into the nitty-gritty of one of the world’s most famous paintings, you can read all the previously published papers from the Girl in the Spotlight project leading up the final report. They each stand on their own so you can read whatever catches your eye, but they are intended to be read in the following order:

  1. From ‘Vermeer illuminated’ to ‘The Girl in the Spotlight’: approaches and methodologies for the scientific (re-)examination of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
  2. Revealing the painterly technique beneath the surface of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring using macro- and microscale imaging.
  3. Mapping the pigment distribution of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
  4. Comparison of three 3D imaging techniques for paintings, as applied to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
  5. Imaging secondary reaction products at the surface of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring by means of in situ macro X-ray powder diffraction scanning.
  6. Beauty is skin deep: The skin tones of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
  7. Out of the blue: Vermeer’s use of ultramarine in Girl with a Pearl Earring.
  8. Fading into the background: the dark space surrounding Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

And the last but certainly not least of them: The Girl in the Spotlight: Vermeer at work, his materials and techniques in Girl with a Pearl Earring.

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Last-minute visit with Michelangelo

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

On February 25th, the Getty Center in Los Angeles opened a new exhibition, Michelangelo: Mind of the Master, dedicated to exploring Michelangelo’s  sculpture, painting and architecture as seen through 28 of his drawings. It was a huge success with more than 2,500 visitors a day, but less than three weeks later, the exhibition came to an abrupt end when the Getty had to close its doors when Los Angeles issued the Safer at Home order. 

Of the 28 drawings on display, 25 of them belong to the Teylers Museum which has owned them since 1790 when the museum was just six years old. This is the first time its complete set of Michelangelo drawings has gone on tour.

They were first assembled by Queen Christina of Sweden, a passionate collector of art with a particular taste for Renaissance Old Masters whose collection was sold after her death in 1689 to Livio Odescalchi, nephew of Pope Innocent XI. Livio died in 1713 and his heirs sold off Christina’s former collection, by then known the Odescalchi collection, to the Duke of Orléans, the King of Spain, the Vatican library and the National Gallery of Scotland. In 1788, Dutch diplomat, politician and art lover Willem Anne Lestevenon acquired 1700 Renaissance and Baroque drawings by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael and Guercino from the Odescalchi collection for the Teylers Museum.

Michelangelo made sketches and drawings of all of his projects from anatomical studies for sculptures to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the dome of St Peter’s, but he often burned his preparatory drawings. According to Vasari, Michelangelo never wanted to show his work, the process, the roughing. He was concerned people would steal his ideas and anyway he wanted only the refined finished product in public view. Out of an estimated 28,000 drawings he made in his long life as an artist, today only 600 survive.

But try as he might, Michelangelo could not keep future art historians and curators from exploring the work process of the master. What he considered imperfections are today considered a window into his mind and method. That’s what Michelangelo: Mind of the Master explores.

It was supposed to run through June 7th. With only hours to go before the Getty Center was shuttered until further notice, curator Julian Brooks hastily shot a series of videos of the works on display, describing their significance as he would to happy groups of visitors in the now eerily empty gallery. 

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Museum acquires Frederick Douglass walking stick

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

The South Carolina State Museum has acquired a walking stick that was presented to Frederick Douglass in 1888. The ebonized wood cane sold at a Cowan’s auction in Cincinnati on February 20th of this year for an impressive $37,500, far exceeding the presale estimate of $3,000-5,000. The museum was able to stay in the exorbitant bidding thanks to its acquisition and collections fund, moneys set aside to secure coveted objects for the museum’s permanent collection.

The cane was a beautifully customized gift given to the Frederick Douglass on a speaking tour of South Carolina. Its gold cap features strawberries (in Christian art, the strawberry symbolizes righteousness and nobility of spirit) against a hammered background and is engraved “Hon. F. Douglass / From D.L.I. / Charleston S.C. / Mar. 6th / 1888.” It bears the makers mark of Robert Fitz Simmons of Attleboro, Massachusetts, a chaser and engraver who had a thriving business as a watch chain manufacturer and then expanded into other product lines.

Reconstruction had ended with abrupt finality in 1877 and like the rest of the former Confederate states, South Carolina had resegregated with bloody gusto. Douglass’ speaking tour 11 years later to South Carolina and Georgia was fraught with peril. He was the most famous black man in the country, instantly recognizable (he was the most photographed African American of the 19th century) and just as outspoken a critic of white supremacy after the war as he had been an abolitionist before and during.

On his stop in South Carolina, he delivered two lectures: European Travels and Self-Made Men. The former gave an account of his observations of the difference between racial attitudes in Europe and the United States as he had experienced on his travels, particularly his two-year-long abolitionist lecture tour in the mid-1840s. The latter was a speech about men born into misery who achieve their ambitions without any advantages of birth, connections, wealth, early education or any kind of encouraging environment. First written in 1859, it was a popular lecture that he continued to deliver to rapt crowds night unto his death in 1895.

A review for his delivery of these speeches at Claflin College, a historically black university founded by Methodist missionaries in 1869 for the education of freed slaves and their children, in The Orangeburg Times and Democrat was positive, if tinged with ominousness. The brief blurb described Douglass as “no doubt the most distinguished colored man in the world” but noted that “Upon being questioned by a student on civil rights matters in America, he advised him to “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!'” That didn’t go down so well. “His manner was pleasing and dignified, but his subject for the time was assuredly ill chosen.” I somehow doubt the paper would have approved of the subject matter at any other time either.

In Charleston, he delivered the speeches at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1882 as the daughter church of Mother Emanuel AME Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South, founded almost 50 years before emancipation in 1817. Charleston’s population was majority black and there were several local African American militia companies named after black and abolitionist heroes Like Crispus Attucks and William Lloyd Garrison. One of them was the Douglass Light Infantry. After Douglass’ speech at Mount Zion AME, the members of the Douglass Light Infantry sang to him at their armory and presented him with the walking stick.

“Walking sticks and canes were often given as presentation gifts during the 19th century, and it is almost certain that Douglass received more than one in his lifetime,” noted Danielle Linn, senior specialist in American history at Cowan’s. “That said, I’ve never seen another cane owned by Douglass! It is especially significant that we were able to determine exactly when and where Douglass was gifted the walking stick,” Linn said. … “It is a rare privilege to hold something that we know belonged to one of the greatest figures of American history.”

“This walking stick is not only a notable object of national history, gifted to the preeminent abolitionist, writer and lecturer Frederick Douglass, it is a significant and meaningful piece of South Carolina history,” said JoAnn Ziese, the museum’s cultural history curator. “Adding this one-of-a-kind piece to our collection will help us continue to tell the wonderful stories of South Carolina for years to come.”

I’m curious to see if they tell the not-so-wonderful story of how South Carolina’s black militias were formed during Reconstruction to keep black voters from being murdered by white supremacist thugs, and how they were suppressed so thoroughly that even their beloved (by black people) Fourth of July parades in Charleston would be eliminated by the end of the century.

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Rare Viking ring found in Dutch cornfield acquired by museum

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

A rare silver Viking ring was acquired by the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (RMO) in Leiden just before it had to close its doors last month. A metal detectorist found it in a cornfield near Hoogwoud in the province of Noord Holland on Christmas Day 2019. It was bought quickly from the finder for an undisclosed sum and is now part of the national collection.

With a diameter of 25mm, a tiny hair under an inch, and weighing eight grams, the ring is quite large. It was made by twisting two silver wires, one thicker, one fine filigree thread made with tiny balls, together. The braided style was in use by Viking goldsmiths from the 9th through the 11th century A.D. This ring dates to the 10th century.

Danish Viking began raiding The Netherlands in the 9th century, occupying the Dutch coast briefly but they didn’t settle permanently as they did in Ireland or York. They established temporary quarters where they camped out in the winter between raids and sea journeys in what is today the province of Noord Holland. A Viking silver hoard from the 9th century discovered in Westerklief, less than 20 miles north of Hoogwoud, is now in the collection RMO. There’s a braided silver bracelet in the hoard made using the same technique as the newly acquired ring.

The size of ring could mean it was made for a sausage-fingered Viking, but RMO curator Annemarieke Willemsen believes it was actually worn as a pendant. The twisted strands flatten and thin out at the top where it dangled from a chain or tie. The wasn’t happenstance; the ring appears to have been deliberately designed to be a pendant and the wear pattern confirms that it was hung from the thin part.

It looks like a miniature version of the neck torcs that were worn by Viking elite of the time. They too were often made with twisted wires that are thin on one side and then gradually thicken as the braid is woven. Pendants of miniature objects — chairs, axes, swords — were popular in the Viking era.

Objects from the 10th and 11th centuries are rare in the Netherlands. The acquisition of this piece will add significantly to the national collection. The museum is planning to display the ring in a future exhibition.

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Van Gogh painting stolen on his birthday

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

A painting by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from the Singer Laren museum just outside Amsterdam on what would have been the artist’s 167th birthday. At around 3:15AM on Monday, March 30th, thieves smashed through the glass door, stole Van Gogh’s Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring and made a quick getaway. The burglar alarm was triggered, but the perpetrators were gone before police arrived at the scene.

“I feel incredibly angry and now I’m starting to feel sadder too,” Jan Rudolph de Lorm, director of the Singer Laren Museum, told Reuters in an interview.

He appealed to those who had taken the painting to treat it with care “so that sooner or later it can be shown to the public unharmed”.

Van Gogh painted this piece in 1884 when he was living with his family at the vicarage in Nuenen where his father was pastor. This was a formative early period in his artistic life. It was Nuenen’s peasants and weavers who were the subjects of his seminal The Potato Eaters. He drew and painted the vicarage and its grounds a number of times, capturing it in different seasons. At 9.8″ x 22.4″, it is uncommonly wide.

De Lorm described the painting, which depicts a woman in a garden with red-flowered bushes and with a church in the background, as “an image of silence, of reflection and of tranquility, which undoubtedly offered him comfort and inspiration”.

“Through him, it gave us and our audience the same emotion,” de Lorm added.

The oil on paper on panel work was part of the museum’s Mirror of the Soul. Toorop to Mondrian exhibition focusing on works displaying the inner life of Dutch artists at the turn of the century. It’s a collaboration with the Rijksmuseum and was inspired by a book on the topic written by the Rijksmuseum’s senior curator of paintings. It features more than 70 paintings, drawings and watercolors from artists world-famous and relatively little known. It was fully insured, of course, and the insurers had inspected the museum’s security measures before the exhibition began.

There are works from the Singer Laren’s collection in the show, but the stolen Van Gogh was not among them. It was on loan from the Groninger Museum, a modern and contemporary art museum with an ecclectic permanent collection that contains exactly one Van Gogh. The painting has been in its collection since 1962 and its loss is incalculable, far beyond monetary value which is easily in the millions.

The theft is being investigated by local police and by Interpol.

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Tour the Winchester Mystery House

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

The famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, is closed until at least April 7th, but the museum has compiled a comprehensive 41-minute video tour for our remote enjoyment.

The manchester was built by Sarah Winchester, widow of rifle tycoon William Wirt Winchester. When he died in 1881, his wife inherited a huge fortune in cash and stock, making her worth a half billion dollars in today’s money and one of the richest women in the world. Legend has it — and it is very much legendary as Sarah left no correspondence or journals on the subject, nor did any family, friends or loyal employees ever volunteer an explanation — that, devastated by the loss of her husband and daughter, she sought the advice of a Boston medium named Adam Coons. After a séance, he told her that she was haunted by the thousands of Civil War soldiers and Indians who had been killed by Winchester firearms, and that the only way to appease the vengeful spirits was to use the Winchester money she’d inherited to build them a house. Another origin story claims that a medium told her she would die as soon as the house was finished, so she saw to it that construction continued until her last breath. There is zero evidence that any of this ever happened.

In 1884, she moved to California and bought a 161-acre farm in Santa Clara Valley from Dr. Robert Caldwell. There was a modest eight room farmhouse already on the property, but Sarah’s vision was far vaster. For 38 years, she had her crew of carpenters and masons work in shifts so construction continued 24-7, 365 days a year. (Again, this is the legend; somebody probably took some time off now and again.) built and built, creating a mansion with hundreds of rooms, rooms-within-rooms, unfinished rooms, mazes of corridors, dead ends, staircases that are short cuts from one part of the house to the other, staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open up to walls, doors that open to the outside two stories up, small doors, big doors, cupolas, turrets, windows of every shape and size, skylights in floors, prime numbers, especially 13, everywhere. There was even a seven story tower at one point, but it was destroyed in the 1906 Frisco quake.

When she died on September 5th, 1922, work immediately stopped. There are still nails half-hammered in to the walls. The rich reclusive widow and her labyrinthine mansion were already famous by then. The villa was known as the Spirit House and rumors abounded of nightly séances, copious hauntings and “evil spirits” confounded by Sarah Winchester’s architectural follies.

She left her estate to the charities she supported, dedicated employees and family. The furnishings of the house were sold and the mansion itself opened to tours in 1923. Millions of visitors have trod its eccentric floors in the century since then. You can now join them virtually from the comfort of your home, maybe chasing the tour with a viewing of the horror thriller Winchester starring Helen Mirren now showing on Showtime and streaming on Hulu.

You can also buy discounted ticket vouchers for a visit to the mansion that will be valid through May 2021. The vouchers cost $26, $13 off the regular ticket price. The income from the voucher sales will help keep the lights on and food on the table for the museum’s employees while the Winchester House is closed.

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#UffiziDecameron

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

More than once over the past few weeks I have thought about the Decameron, the early Italian-language masterpiece written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the mid-14th century as the Black Death ravaged Tuscany, the peninsula, the continent. In it, 10 youths, seven women and three men, flee plague-ridden Florence and hole up in a villa in the countryside for two weeks. To alleviate the boredom of their self-quarantine, they tell each other stories for 10 nights of the 14 (with exceptions for the two Sundays, and one day per week dedicated to chores which is rather impressive roommating considering the circumstances, actually). By the end of their stay, they’ve told 100 stories.

With all of Italy on lockdown, museums and heritage sites closed, people stuck in their abodes for days at a time, the Uffizi Gallery has launched a digital Decameron to entertain and console the shut-in with photographs, videos and stories shared on all its social media platforms — Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram — under #UffiziDecameron.

The Uffizi picks from the immense wealth of artworks in its Gallery of Statues and Paintings, in the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens, posts a photo or clip, and their social media curators explain the background and meaning of each piece. The first video posted was a wordless tour of the Boboli gardens with aerial and terrestrial footage that is just breathtakingly beautiful. The second is a tour by museum assistant Cristina De Caro of the Uffizi’s Contini Bonacossi collection, something I knew not a single thing about before today.

The portrait by Bronzino of Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de Medici, wearing an exquisitely brocaded gown, her arm draped around the shoulders of their son and heir, is world-famous. Less well-known is the ring Cosimo gave her for their wedding: a Roman intaglio stone with matrimonial motifs (cornucopias, intertwined hands) he had set by Florentine goldsmiths. It is one of very few surviving examples of secular gold work from the early Medici dukes in Florence today because the family treasure was so widely dispersed. The reason it’s in the Uffizi today is that Eleonora was buried with it. It was found when the remains of the 50 Medici family members buried in tombs in the walls of San Lorenzo were moved to the crypt under the church in 1857.

Over on Instagram the quarantine festivities kicked off with a 19th century painting by Vincenzo Cabianca of a scene from the Decameron. More recently they posted a riveting explanation of the complex imagery in a section of the Siena Duomo’s unbelievable inlaid marble mosaic floor designed by Pinturicchio in 1504. 

As a companion to the Uffizi Decameron initiative, the museum will also publish images, video and content dedicated to Raphael. It’s the 500th anniversary of his death this year, and the Scuderie del Quirinale museum in Rome was hosting an unprecedented exhibition dedicated to the Renaissance master. My plans to write about the show were derailed by horror, so it warms the cockles of my broken heart that the Uffizi, which loaned 50 of its works out of the 200 or so on display, will be sharing online what cannot be shared in person right now.

“Even if museums have had to close their doors, art doesn’t stop,” explained Uffizi director Eike Schmidt. “This is why from now on we will address our public also through Facebook. The treasures of the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitta and the Boboli Gardens will keep you company in these weeks of the common commitment against the spread of the virus. Today we begin Uffizi Decameron: as in the masterpiece by Boccaccio, every day we will tell stories, the works, the personages of our most beautiful museums, uniting us in the name of culture, of art, and — why not — of amusement. The Uffizi will be with you, in your homes, to overcome all together the current moment of difficulty. We avoid all contagion, except that of beauty.”

So much lump in throat right now. Hai tutto il mio amore, Italia.

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V&A acquires rare Medieval cluster brooch

Friday, March 13th, 2020

The Victoria & Albert Museum has acquired a medieval brooch that is the only one of its kind ever discovered in the UK. Only seven of them are known to exist in the world. It was discovered by metal detectorist Justin Owens at a 2017 rally on a farm that was once a royal hunting grounds near Brigstock, Northamptonshire. It was only four inches under the surface and so caked with mud that Owens at first thought it was a bottle cap or some other piece of trash. Cleaning revealed it was an extremely rare late medieval brooch of gold and jewels.

The front face of the brooch is a triangular setting outlined by three gold bars with a central rectangular gemstone, almost certainly a spinel, in a four-prong mount. Around the stone are alternating flower and bow shapes with twisted gold wires filling gaps. At the three corners of the triangle are are box bezels topped with a pointed gemstone giving them a pyramidical shape. One of the three is missing its gem point. The surviving two are diamonds. White enamel balls accent the piece and there would originally have been pearls, now lost.

The front face is mounted to a roughly circular gold back plate divided into six pie slices. At the center of the outer edge of each wedge is a rivet keeping the setting elements in place, mounted to the back plate. There’s another rivet in the middle where the six divides meet. It holds the central gem in place. The pin is intact, hinged to the back plate. The style of design dates it to between 1420 and 1600.

James Robinson, Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass at the V&A, said: “This intriguing and exquisite late medieval cluster brooch is a rare survivor with a tantalising story to tell.

“It’s sculptural design, exceptionally fine gold and enamel work, stunning diamonds, central cabochon spinel and pearls (now lost), all express burgeoning opulence and extreme wealth.

“It would have been made for someone from the highest echelons of society. The loss of some diamonds and the brooch’s severely bent pin belie the visible trauma it would have suffered when it was likely ripped off its wearer during the thrill of a hunt.

“It makes a truly captivating and unique addition to our world-class jewellery collection, which traces the story of jewellery in Europe from ancient times to the present day.”

After a painstaking conservation using the most delicate of tools including pheasant and ostrich feathers, the brooch will go on display in the V&A’s Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery alongside the silver, sapphire and diamond coronet Prince Albert had made as wedding gift for Queen Victoria.

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Smithsonian releases 2.8 million free images and more

Friday, February 28th, 2020

The Smithsonian Institution has released 2.8 million images from its digital collection for broad public use, and that’s just for starters. The Smithsonian Open Access initiative removes copyright restrictions from images and data, releasing its vast database into the public domain with a Creative Commons Zero license, meaning digital files can be used in any way, including for commercial purposes, without requiring permission or even attribution.

Museums like the Metropolitan, Getty and Rijksmuseum have been making high resolution images of their collections available online for personal or non-profit use in recent years, including the Smithsonian which already has more than 4.7 million images from its collection available for personal use. The Smithsonian Open Access program expands the scope of digitization by a cultural institution, extending the use license to CC0 for nearly 3 million of those images, plus much more.  Any digital asset owned by the Smithsonian — research data, text, sound recordings, 3D models and more — is being designated open access. More will be added on an ongoing basis, with more than 3 million images designated open access by the end of the year.

All of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo contributed images or data to this launch. The program includes content across the arts, sciences, history, culture, technology and design, from portraits of historic American figures to 3D scans of dinosaur skeletons.

Visit the Smithsonian Open Access portal to search the digital collections for high-resolution 2D and 3D images. You can also browse by platforms like Learning Lab for K-12 educational resources and Figshare for research datasets. The Smithsonian has also published open-source tools for the creation of 3D content. Use Voyager to view one the museum’s 2,200 3D models or to author and publish your own.

Open access furthers the Smithsonian’s mission which has been the same since its founding in 1846: for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.“ Remarkably, the Smithsonian’s founder James Smithson, an English chemist and mineralogist who died in 1829, provided some blueprints for the initiative. His biographer Heather Ewing talks about Smithson’s view that the natural world could only ever be understood with many people participating in, assembling, and sharing information. Smithson used commonly found objects when conducting his experiments so others could replicate his experiments as he sought to understand everything from snake venom to ancient Egyptian pigments to improved methods for making coffee.

“It is only by exchange and mutual assistance that naturallists [sic] can possibly ever succeed in assembling together a collection of subjects of their study, which nature has made so numerous, and disseminated in such various and distant parts of the world,” James Smithson

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Painting of Ra found inside 3,000-year-old coffin

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

A painting of the Egyptian sun god Ra has been found inside the coffin of  22nd Dynasty (945‒712 B.C.) priest Ankh-khonsu now at the Harvard Semitic Museum. When conservators opened the lid, they saw the image of the falcon-headed god, partially obscured by blackened resin that was poured over the coffin during the funerary rights, on the interior bottom of the case.

The coffin has been in the museum’s collection for 118 years, so you’d think its contents wouldn’t come as a surprise, but the mummy it once held was removed when it arrived at the museum and the closed coffin has been display most of the time since. It was opened again 30 years ago, but its interior was either not documented or the records were lost.

There was no risk of that happening this time. The coffin was opened in order to digitize it, part of a program to record every detail of the object and create a digital model that will allow museum visitors, the interested public and researchers around the world full access to Ankh-khonsu’s coffin without interfering with its display or conservation environment.

Despite the uneven texture of the area and the dark coating, Manuelian and his colleagues could see the yellow, orange, and blue painting and the hieroglyphs that read “Ra-Horakhty, the great God, Lord of Heaven” next to the figure.

As part of the project, Manuelian assembled an “all-star cast” of conservators, a professional photographer, and pigment sampling and residue and wood analysis experts to collect information and capture imagery of the coffin materials and adornments. Colleagues came from as far away as University College London and from just down the street at the Harvard Art Museums.

From the hieroglyphics on the coffin we know Ankh-khonsu was a doorkeeper in the Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak in ancient Thebes (modern-day Luxor). It was a position he inherited from his father Ankh-en-amun. Two other 22nd Dynasty coffins in the museum, a painted wood one belonging to Mut-iy-iy  and a cartonnage one belonging to Pa-di-mut, were also opened, documented and scanned, but their records were more complete so no surprises were found.

Great flukes of history tangent!

The coffin was given to the museum by Theodore M. Davis (1838-1915), a wealthy lawyer, businessman and avid Egyptophile who spent the last 15 years of his life spending winters in Egypt and sponsoring excavations. The digs he funded in the Valley of the Kings unearthed 30 tombs: KV20, the original tomb of Thutmose I, KV43, tomb of Pharaoh Thutmose IV, and KV55, aka the Amarna cache, containing the remains of Pharaoh Akhenaten, among other notable finds.

The first three seasons of Davis’ excavations were conducted by Howard Carter, then the inspector-general of antiquities for Upper Egypt. Despite the many important discoveries his teams had made, Davis wanted more than anything to find an intact royal tomb and he came to believe that the Valley of the Kings, thoroughly plundered and recycled as its tombs had been over the millennia, was “exhausted” of any such treasure. He gave up the exclusive concession to excavate the Valley of the Kings in 1914. Who got it next, you ask? Why, that would be Lord Carnarvon. The rest, as they say, is history. Davis died in 1915 so he never saw his successor and his former dig leader hit the dirtiest of all paydirt when they discovered the untouched tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 six feet away from where Davis’ last excavation had stopped.

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