I saw a variety of works of art that piqued my interest during my visit to the university of Pennsylvania museum of archaeology and anthropology, also known as Penn museum. Furthermore, because I had experience that we had been taught in class, I was able to appreciate these works even more. As a result, I had a better understanding of the context of the different works of art, their time spans, and their history, which enhanced the value and interest of the art I was examining in the museum. All in all, the Penn museum collection is extensive and contains artifacts from all over the world including from places like ancient Egypt, Africa, Europe and Asia. Even more amazing, these artifacts were discovered through archaeological expeditions led by the university hence signifying that the museum also had the ability to contextualize the artifacts in a way only possible through knowing the details of each discovery.
Thesis statement: The museum was able to tell the history of humanity as well as their different practices throughout the ages; for instance, we get to learn about the religious and cultural practices of the ancient people. Of great interest to me in this expedition was the great sphinx statue in the main level gallery; the statue tells a lot about ancient Egyptian civilization including their beliefs and architectural capabilities. The present paper is a visual analysis of the sphinx at Penn museum; further, we will discuss how this statue tells the story of ancient human practices and history.
The Egypt sphinx gallery was located at the lower gallery; this gallery contained exhibitions of Egyptian architecture and artifacts including statues and tablets detailing the history of ancient Egyptians. Upon entering this gallery, visitors are greeted by numerous artifacts which, when scrutinized, tell the stories of the various dynasties that ruled Egypt. For instance, there was the partially restored black basalt stela as well as walls representing tomb chapels of ancient Egyptian leaders. The other half of the gallery exhibits the architectural elements of ancient Egyptian palaces; these elements provide insight into the political, religious and social beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. However, the most significant artifact in this gallery was the sphinx of Ramses which was displayed alongside the architectural elements of the ancient Egyptian palace.
The sphinx was an amazing artifact to behold due to its shape, its size as well as the mystery surrounding its creation. The statue was an amazing 3.6 meters in length and 1.45 meters in width; more to this, the statue was made of red granite which is among the ancient rocks used for statues. Further, it was a monolithic statue owing to the fact that it seemed to have been made from one block of stone rather than assembled pieces. What was most amazing was that the statue seemed to weigh over 10 tons; this is quite an accomplishment owing to the fact that the ancient people did not have modern technology to lift such statues.
The statue depicted the body of a lion but with the head of a human; the head of the statue was that of Ramesses II who was pharaoh in the 19th dynasty. Surrounding this sphinx were columns, door frames, and windows which seem to represent some sought of palace. I learned later that this was the great palace of Merenptah who was the successor of Ramesses. The surroundings of the sphinx were of great interest to me since they represented the great accomplishments of the Egyptians; the doorways and columns spoke of the great architectural knowledge the Egyptians had. It was even more amazing to realize that these architectural elements had survived thousands of years and now they served as evidence to show the great marvels of the Egyptians.
Other than that, I noticed a number of features on the statues as I scrutinized it further. For instance, I saw that most of the facial features of the sphinx including the royal false beard seemed to have been eroded over the years; this was due to the wind and other elements of weather over the years. Another interesting feature about this huge statue was that there were inscriptions around it as well as on the shoulders of the great statue; the inscriptions resembled ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I learned that the inscriptions on the base are the five names of Ramesses II while the inscriptions on the shoulders were the names of Merenptah who was the son and heir of Ramesses II.
For a better understanding of the great sphinx mythology, we need some background information as to why the ancient Egyptians constructed it. In ancient mythology, the sphinx was a creature with the head of a man and the body of a lion; it was considered a guardian and renowned for its ferocity and cunning. Therefore, the ancient people believed that the sphinx would protect them from all dangers and hence they equated kings to this creature. The sculpture described above, therefore, gives us insight into the practices of the ancient Egyptians. For instance, the sphinx in the museum has the face of Ramesses hence we are able to see that the king was treated as a representative of the gods on earth. In this way, the great sphinx is evidence enough of the high value that the Egyptians attached to their kings; having the face of their king on the statue shows that the king was an all-powerful figure who also served to protect the people.
In conclusion, the tour through the museum can be equated as taking a glimpse into the history of humanity including the different practices they had back then. The sphinx was most amazing due to its massive size and the way it seemed ready to counter threats and protect its people. It felt so amazing looking at the sphinx since one could not help but be fascinated with its history, mythology, and construction. All in all, the sphinx revealed a lot about the beliefs that the ancient Egyptians had as well as the way in which they used to worship.
Quick, Jennifer. Magnificent Objects from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2004.
Wegner, Josef W., and Jennifer Houser Wegner. 2015. The Sphinx that Traveled to Philadelphia: The Story of the Colossal Sphinx in the Penn Museum. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Sphinx of Ramses object number E12326