Deep in the Heart of Texas

In 1988 in response to the wide public interest in the collaboration between Sue D’Auria of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Myron Marx of Brigham and Women’s Hospital to study the Museum’s mummies using the hospital’s CT-scan technology, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston presented the exhibition “Mummies and Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt.” We envisioned this not only to showcase the results of the CT scanning project but also as a way to get many of the Museum’s long-neglected Egyptian objects conserved and published. After seeing how much money and effort went into loan exhibitions, we thought it best to re-direct these resources to the Museum’s own collection. We then conceived the exhibition “Mummies and Magic” focused on the funerary arts and rituals as they developed over time from the Predynastic Period to the Coptic Era, all drawn from the Egyptian Department’s vast collection, many of which had never been displayed before.

As an outcome of discussions with Carlos Picon then, of the San Antonio Museum of Art, and Alan May from the Dallas Museum of Art, we arranged for a collections share agreement in 1990 between the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art. The loans were funded by the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation and provided for a dedicated conservator in Boston to work on the material selected for the loans, many of which had never before been on display. Although many of these objects were in need of restoration and had been in storage for many decades, they were nonetheless extremely important and valuable antiquities that had been neglected only because the Boston Museum had neither the resources or space to showcase them.

Over a period of several years as conservation progressed the Boston Museum agreed to loan the San Antonio Art Museum 78 Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Near Eastern artifacts for long-term loan including the nested set of the mummy and coffins of Neskhonsupakhered that had originally been brought from Egypt in 1836 and not displayed in over a century since it had been covered in dirt and blackened resin. Also among the many objects was a relief from the tomb of Idu located beside the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The Dallas Museum of Art was sent over 350 Egyptian artworks for a ten-year period as a special exhibition, “Eternal Egypt.”. In addition, the Dallas Museum of Art reprinted the Mummies and Magic exhibition catalog with a new section of color plates featuring some of the Boston-Dallas loans.

While some objects needed mere cleaning after many years in Boston’s grimy basements, some required more extensive treatment. One such object was the gray granite False Door of the Nubian King Anlamani (ca. 623-593 B.C.E.). Over nine feet tall and weighing four and a half tons. It had come from the King’s pyramid chapel at Nuri as a gift of the Sudanese government in 1917 and shipped to Boston in 1923 and had been in fragments in storage ever since. As part of the loan, conservators re-attached the pieces and filled in some losses. It was also lent with the two granite incense burners that had flanked it in the chapel for 2,500 years.

False Door of Anlamani still in packing crate from 1923
Restored False Door of Anlamani, BMFA 23.1479

Another piece was a Ptolemaic Period (305-30 B.C.E.) greywacke Egyptian sarcophagus that had been collected in Egypt by John Lowell in 1835 and was restored and displayed for the first time in memory for the loan.

Sarcophagus, BMFA 75.9a-e

Though the Dallas loan was eventually returned to Boston, much of the material that comprised the special exhibition was then sent back to Texas as part of a long-term loan to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The objects in the San Antonio Art Museum are still on display there.

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