When Penn Museum agreed to lend objects from its Egyptian collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their new exhibition, The Dawn of Egyptian Art (April 10 through August 5, 2012), Penn Museum’s Egyptian section curator made one special request—for a temporary “exchange of prisoners.”
Metropolitan Museum’s curator of the exhibition and University of Pennsylvania alumna Diana Craig Patch requested 10 objects from the Penn Museum, one of which is a spectacular stone door socket carved in the form of a captive, regularly on view in the Penn Museum’s Upper Egyptian Gallery. With his body flattened to the ground and his hands bound behind, the figure on the door socket bears the unhappy likeness of a prisoner of Egypt under Pharaoh’s domination. Once, part of a temple at the ancient cult site of Hierakonpolis, a heavy wooden door turned on a pivot that would have fit into the depression on the captive’s back. The artifact dates to the first or second Egyptian dynasties—between 3000 and 2675 BCE.
A large photograph of the Penn Museum’s captive was recently featured in a New York Times review of the Metropolitan Museum’s new show, “a sublime, view shifting exhibition” according to art critic Roberta Smith.
While the Penn Museum’s prisoner is in New York, the Met has lent the Museum a statue of a kneeling bound captive from their own collection—to go on display in the Upper Egyptian Gallery May 2 through August 5, 2012. This three dimensional bound figure kneels in subjugation with his arms restrained behind his back. This statue dates to Dynasty 6 of the Old Kingdom and was made during the reign of Pepi II (ca. 2246-2152 BCE), and it may have originally stood in the funerary complex of the king at the site of Saqqara. Damage seen on this statue is quite possibly the result of a ritual act of destruction, which may have been done for protection from enemies.