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Haremhab

Program information

This symposium organized by the Department of Egyptian Art was recorded on May 5, 2011, in conjunction with the special exhibition Haremhab, The General Who Became King, on view November 16, 2010, through July 4, 2011.

 

Haremhab

The General Who Became King

November 16, 2010–July 4, 2011

The focus of this exhibition is the statue Haremhab as a Scribe, the most famous three-dimensional image of the general, created before he became king. The statue shows Haremhab as a scribe and thus an administrator and wise man. The exhibition examines the historical and art historical significance of the statue and of its subject: a royal scribe, and general of the army under Tutankhamun, who eventually became king.

One of the most fascinating pharaohs of ancient Egypt, Haremhab (reigned ca. 1323–1309 B.C.) was a strong leader in a time of political and religious transition. As commander-in-chief of Tutankhamun's army, he oversaw important military campaigns at the border with Nubia and in the Levant; later, as the last king of Dynasty 18, Haremhab instituted laws that secured the rights of civilians and curbed the power of the army.

The display features some forty additional objects in various media—wall reliefs, works on papyrus, statuettes, and garment fragments—all from the holdings of the Metropolitan.

More About the Exhibition

Commissioned when he was still a general and administrator, Haremhab's statue shows him in the scribal pose, seated on the ground with his legs crossed. Across his knees is a papyrus scroll on which is written a hymn to Thoth, the god of scribes. In his right hand (now missing) he probably held a reed, the pen of ancient Egyptians. A shell of ink lies on his left knee. Over his left shoulder is a strap, with a miniature scribe's kit at each end. A figure of the god Amun is incised on his forearm, possibly representing a tattoo. Although his face is youthful, the folds on his belly suggest the torso of an older—and therefore wiser—man. His posture is relaxed, and he gazes down as if reading the papyrus on his lap. He is attired in an ornately pleated shirt and kilt. A prayer to Ptah, the god of creation, is inscribed on the statue's base. By choosing to be depicted in this way, Haremhab—the leader of the pharaoh's army—declares himself to be both literate and pious.

Egyptian scribe representations first appeared in the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium B.C.), more than one thousand years before the time of Haremhab. During the New Kingdom, scribes often were shown in the company of Thoth, the god of wisdom, who appeared in the form of a baboon. The tradition of showing great officials as scribes—thereby equating them with men of wisdom—lasted through the whole Pharaonic and pre-Christian era.

Also on view in the exhibition are other scribe statues of various periods of Egyptian history, a collection of scribal materials and instruments of writing, and a stela whose text pertains to literacy in ancient Egypt. Ancient garments like the one worn by Haremhab in his statue are displayed near representations of such garments. Another stela shows a procession in which priests carry the shrine of Amun—commemorating the oracle that made Haremhab king. The artistic style of Haremhab's tomb in Saqqara (built and decorated when he was still a general) is demonstrated by a few examples of similar style in the collection, and facsimile paintings represent the royal tomb of Haremhab in the Valley of the King. Finally, the god Thoth is present in a number of works showing him as a baboon and an ibis, and an image and translation of Haremhab's decree from Karnak documents the king's political achievements.