A King in a Shoebox

As a student at the Oriental Institute in the late 1970s, I had the good fortune to volunteer in the Museum’s Conservation Laboratory under the patient guidance of Barbara Hall. I am forever grateful for all I learned there and the many interesting projects I worked on.

One of the most rewarding tasks was to work with Barbara on a new metals storage room, helping to gather materials squirreled away throughout the Museum basement for rehousing. While engaged in this task, I came across an old, cardboard shoebox with ‘forgery’ penciled on the lid. To my amazement when I opened the box, I saw not a fake, but a bronze sculpture of a Nubian pharaoh of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty (ca. 722–ca. 655 BCE). The figure’s non-Egyptian regalia (the cap crown, double uraeus, and pendant ram heads), combined with its physiognomy (its broad features as well as stocky musculature), and the somewhat ‘Frankenstein-ish’ pose of the piece must have appeared dubious to someone not familiar with Kushite art. However, this statuette clearly fits into the typology of small bronze statuettes of these kings. I had also been interning in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts while Edna (Ann) Russmann was there, the preeminent scholar on the subject, and became familiar with her catalogue of the royal sculpture of the Nubian Dynasty. However, since the statuette had been dismissed as a fake and hidden away in its shoebox it had never made it into the compendium.

Now rescued from obscurity, it is prominently displayed in the Oriental Institute Museum’s Nubian Galleries.

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