Permanent Collection - Museu Egipci

The collection is divided into the following thematic sections: The Pharaohs (characteristics and functions), Positions and People (titles and roles in society), Daily Life (handicrafts, cosmetics and eroticism), Religious Beliefs and Funerary Practices (the myth of Osiris, mummification, tombs and funerary equipment) and the Religious Universe (cult temples and principal divinities).

The Egyptian state, born on the banks of the River Nile, was governed and directed during 3000 years by people with great power: the Pharaohs. The Pharaoh represented the highest post in the social pyramid: as carrier of divine blood he was a high priest who should construct temples and maintain the cult of the gods, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian armies, supreme judge… in all, a guarantor of the cosmic order who assured the correct functioning of the universe.
Since the beginnings of Egyptian culture the Pharaoh had the determined attributes characteristic of his rank and functions. These included, among others, the ‘Pschent’ crown, emblem of the union between the two kingdoms into which Egypt was divided; and the upright cobra (Ureo), protector of royalty. Even for writing his name the Pharaoh would use special protocol formed by five elements in their moment of maximum development, with specific symbols such as the ‘serej’ and cartridge. Among the more than 300 documented Pharaohs there were outstanding kings and kings about whom little more than their names are known. Some led their country to the heights of prosperity and prestige while others were responsible for its decadence and ruin.

Egypt represents one of the oldest models of state in humanity. Centralised around the figure of the Pharaoah, its functioning was based on a strict division of labour (administrative, religious and military) and the existence of a great number of highly hierarchical positions.
The Vizier or Prime Minister was supposed to supervise the fulfillment of the king’s wishes in all the Egyptian territory. The king’s supervisors, the ‘nomarcas’ or provincial governors, and the highest ranking military officers and priests were also positions of great power and influence.
Whole armies of functionaries and scribes constituted the bulk of the state bureaucratic apparatus. Craftsmen, peasants and soldiers, under direct organisation and orders of their administrators, were in charge of producing, maintaining and protecting the essence of their civilisation.

Egyptian civilisation stands out for the great quantity of material creations it has bequeathed to posterity. These works responded to the concrete necessities of society and are generally characterised by their high level of aesthetic refinement and the perfection of their execution.
Workers, craftsmen and artists used all their mastery to create architectural constructions and objects that to this day inspire interest and general admiration. In creative activities such as jewellery and stonework the Egptians achieved unequalled standards of perfection making their products the most evident show of a sophisticated culture and an exemplary dominance of the various techniques used.
Jewels were clear indicators of the rank of the wearer. The highest ranking people could wear gold, silver, carnelian and lapis lazuli jewels which the less fortunate had to make do with objects made from a glass paste whose colours imitated the richer materials. With the magical character of jewels, whose designs were normally inspired by divine symbols and figures, the Egyptians hoped to bring about an improvement in the development of their earthy life and that of the afterlife.

In order to manufacture crockery the Egyptians mainly used clay, stone and metal. The objects created, which reveal a vast array of forms and functions, were used in a context related to daily activities and funerary rites.
In the pre-dynasty period stonework and ceramics reached such a high technical and aesthetic level that it would scarcely be surpassed during the Pharaonic era. In general it can be said that stone crockery figured as a luxury item relegating ceramics to a secondary role. It was in these stone creations, especially the harder objects, that the Egyptians learnt and practised their techniques which were applied on a larger scale and with an unequalled mastery to their sculptural and architectural works.

The attention and care that the Egyptians dedicated to their bodies is clear in the great number of objects and products related to the cosmetics that they used. This aesthetic sense, meant essentially to increasing the attractiveness of men and women, was not free from a certain erotic charge.
Representational figures and erotic written texts were not common in Egyptian art and literature, at least in a direct sense. The most explicit examples had no place in what is considered official art where allusions to this theme were made through graphic metaphors or subtle word games. Just like human beings the gods were affected by a sense of modesty in all that concerns sex as a pleasurable activity and in its merely reproductive aspect.

The Egyptians considered death on earth as a temporary interruption as humans had the possibility of living eternally. This privilege, which mainly affected the most important members of society, was extended little by little and ended up being given to all inhabitants of the country.
From a ritualistic point of view mummification was the best way of preparing the body for eternal life. To the same end the individual was supposed to have tomb or house of eternity to hold his/ her mummy, the equipment necessary for subsistence and a cult zone. But these preparations would be worthless if the soul of the deceased did not pass the trial to which it would be subjected by a tribunal presided over by Osiris, god of the dead. This trial evaluated the honesty and virtue of the person. In the event that the judgement was favourable access to immortality would be guaranteed but in case of an unfavourable outcome the soul would perish forever devoured by the fiery goddess Amemet.
So that the deceased could undertake his journey to the Judgement Hall and overcome the trials to which he would be submitted, he should take the funerary texts, among which were ‘The Pyramid Texts’, ‘The Sarcophagus Texts’ and ‘The Book of the Dead’ as aids.

Egyptian tombs were considered as true houses of eternity for the dead. Pyramids, mastabas and tombs within caves varied in form and size according to their proprietor’s rank and the evolution of structures over time. One characteristic common to practically all tombs was the existence of two completely separate areas from a functional and topographical point of view: funerary premises and the zone dedicated to cults.
In funerary premises the mummy was the most important element deposited. It was protected by sarcophaguses and coffins of different materials and forms, and among its bandages amulets of all types were placed to guarantee its wellbeing in the afterlife. ‘Canopo’ glasses, ‘ushebtis’, representations of funerary divinities, models of objects and happenings from the earthly world and food were some of the most common objects found among the sepulchral equipment of the Pharaoh’s tombs.

Unlike the sepulchral chambers, the cult funerary zone of the Egyptian tombs was easily accessible to close friends and relatives or those responsible for making the offerings necessary to guarantee the subsistence of the deceased.
In the case of the royal tombs and the highest ranking people activities related to the funerary cult took place en monumental precincts such as the High and Low Temples of the pyramidal group (Old and Middle Empires) or the mortuary temples of the New Empire.
In the private tombs the cult space was less, being situated in chapels located in the nucleus of the funerary structures (Old Empire) or partially or totally excavated in the rock (Middle and New Empires). Substitute statues, ‘false door’ trails, tables of offerings and parietal representations of all types are some of the most common elements that made up the cult spaces.

The Egyptian temple was considered the house of the gods, a fitting home for their adoration. Through cult activities the human being could secure the maintenance of the cosmic order and show his gratitude for having been allowed to inhabit the earth.
In the remotest part of the temple was a sanctuary that housed the divine image, in a clear attempt to distance it from earthly impurities. In the beginning the Pharaoh was the only being who could get close to the god but the laboriousness of the rituals (which had to be carried out daily) and the great number of temples in Egypt led to the delegation of these tasks to priests. The god was supposed to be fed several times a day, washed, dressed and purified, all during songs and litanies proffered by the priests.
The different spaces within the temples constituted a metaphor for the universe and the process of creation. From the deepest sanctuary, dark and with limited dimensions, there were bigger and brighter spaces (the antechamber, halls, patios) leading to the outside where monumental doors showed the entrance to the temple like symbols of the horizon where the sun goes up and is hidden.

Pharaonic Egypt adored its thousands of gods, a fact that gave its religion a great complexity accentuated by a variety of devotions, symbols and syncretisms. These gods cannot be structured along a globalised genealogy as the theological systems group together a smaller number of divinities. In fact, the most common formula was the triad, made up of a main god, his wife and the child of the pair. Nevertheless, the Egyptians also created complex theologies in which they gave expression to their concept of the cosmos and creation. Among these the theories elaborated by the priests of Heliopolis, Hermopolis, Memphis and Thebes stand out.
One of the most characteristic facets of the religious life of the ancient Egyptians was the cult devoted to certain animals, clearly reflected in their artistic creations. These deifications were always related to a process of observation of nature transforming these beings into the incarnation of gods. The strength of the lioness was the best expression of the violence of war. The hippopotamus, because of its voluminous belly, was associated with pregnant women. The falcon, whose powerful flight could bring it closer to the sun, was deified as a solar and celestial being.

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