Ancient Egypt, Brazil National Museum (Digital Restoration)

Adding more than 700 items, the National Museum’s Egyptian archeology collection was the largest in Latin America and the oldest in the Americas. Most of the pieces entered the museum’s collection in 1826, when the merchant Nicolau Fiengo brought from Marseille a collection of Egyptian antiquities that belonged to the famous Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni, responsible for excavating The Necropolis of Thebes (now Luxor) and the Temple of Carnaque.

This collection was originally destined for Argentina, possibly being an order from the then president of that country,Bernardino Rivadavia, creator of the University of Buenos Aires and a great museum enthusiast. A blockade in Rio da Prata, however, would have prevented Fiengo from completing the trip, forcing him to return from Montevideo to Rio de Janeiro, where the pieces were put up for auction. Dom Pedro I bought the complete collection for five contos de réis, and then donated it to the National Museum. It is speculated whether Dom Pedro’s gesture was influenced by José Bonifácio, a prominent member of Freemasonry, perhaps motivated by the interest that such a brotherhood has in Egyptian iconography.

The collection started by Pedro I would be expanded by his son, Dom Pedro II, an amateur Egyptologist and collector of pieces of archaeological and ethnographic interest. Among the most important additions to the Egyptian collection of the museum originated by Pedro II, was the polychrome wooden sarcophagus of the singer of Amon, Sha-Amun-en-su, from the Low Period, offered as a gift to the emperor during his second trip to the Egypt in 1876 by Khedive Ismail Pasha. The sarcophagus was never opened, but the mummy still remainsof the singer inside, a characteristic that gave it a notorious rarity. Subsequently, the collection would be enriched through purchases and donations, becoming, at the beginning of the 20th century, a collection of such archaeological relevance that it started to attract the attention of international researchers, such as Alberto Childe, who held the position of conservator of archeology at the National Museum between 1912 and 1938, also publishing the National Museum’s Guide to Classical Archeology Collections in 1919.

In the collection, in addition to the aforementioned Sha-Amun-en-su coffin, three other sarcophagi from the Third Intermediate Period and the Low Season, belonging to the priests of Ámon, Hori, Pestjef and Harsiese, stood out in the collection. The museum still had six human mummies, four for adults and two for children, as well as a small collection of animal mummies (cats, ibis, fish and crocodile cubs). Among the human specimens, there was a female mummy from the Roman Period, considered extremely rare by the preparation technique, of which only eight similar ones are known in the world. Called “princess of the Sun” or ” princess Kherima”, the mummy had the members and fingers and toes and hands bandaged individually and is richly adorned, with painted bands. It was one of the most popular items in the museum, being even related to reports of parapsychological experiences and collective trances, supposedly occurred in the 1960s. Kherima also inspired the novel The Secret of the Mummy by Everton Ralph, a member of the Rosa Cruz Society.

The collection of votive and funerary stelae added up to dozens of specimens that date, mostly, from the Intermediate Period and the Low Season. Noteworthy were the stelae of Raia and Haunefer, which present titles of Semitic origin present in the Bible and in the cuneiform tablets of Mari, in addition to an unfinished stele, attributed to the Emperor Tiberius, of the Roman Period. There was also a vast collection of shabtis, statuettes representing funerary servants, particularly those belonging to Pharaoh Seti I, excavated in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Also in the context of rare pieces, a statuette of a young woman in painted limestone, dating from the New Empire, with a cone of ointments on her head – an iconography that is almost exclusively found in paintings and reliefs deserves mention. Complementing the collection were fragments of reliefs, masks, figurines of deities in bronze, stone and wood (including depictions of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris), canopic vases, alabaster bowls, funerary cones, jewelery, amulets and functional pieces of diverse natures.


Casket of Sha-Amun-En-Su
Plastered and polychrome wood.
In 1876, during his second visit to Egypt, Dom Pedro II was gifted by Quediva Ismail with a beautiful painted skiff of the “Singer of Amon,” Sha-Amun-en-su, which he ended up keeping in his cabinet until the Proclamation of the Republic, in 1889, when the skiff became part of the National Museum’s collection. Later, the Egyptian collection was joined by other objects from donations or particular purchases, accruing up to 700 objects. The tomographic exam executed on Sha-Amun-en-su’s mummy revealed the presence of amulets at the interior of the casket, among them a heart scarab.

Statuette of young Egyptian lady.
Polychromatic limestone Statuette.
This fragmented image represents an elite woman wearing a pleated linen dress. She holds a lotus flower in her hands, a sign of rebirth, and on the head she carries an incense cone. Female representations such as these are characteristic of this period’s sophistication and luxury.

Mummified cat
Linen and cartonnage bandages.
The ancient Egyptians also mummified animals, aside from human beings. The most popular were the cats, and their mummies were offered to the cat goddess Bastet. The belief in divine intervention intermediated by a mummified animal, such as this cat, provoked the emergence of a true animal mummification industry, with breeding places and slaughterhouses that supplied the bodies for mummification.

Lactating Isis statue
The goddess Isis is protectress of the household and the family. Here she appears represented breastfeeding her divine son, the god Horus, in the form of a real prince. Images of Isis, in bronze, were very popular in the periods that preceded the arrival of Christianity in Egypt, and might have given origin to images that represent the Virgin Mary.

Statue of the god Bes
Rock and glass paste.
The god Bes was represented as a grotesque figure, half man, half lion, with the protecting function of chasing away evil. He prevented nightmares, protected newborns, and for that reason was always present in Egyptian households, both rich and poor.

Shabti of Haremakhbit
Shabtis are funerary servers whose role is to substitute the dead in their jobs in the next life. Appearing in the hundreds in some funerary chambers, they are placed next to the dead. This piece, of exceptional artistic quality and in an excellent state of conservation, presents the funerary servers’ classic characteristics in what entails form, instruments, and text.

Low relief of Sehetepibre
This piece is not a stele; it appears to be the previous (left) part of a larger panel. On the right, there is a text that belongs to another, currently disappeared scene, far from the main figure (which is turned towards the left). A margin of relief represents the doorway of a door over which a motif frieze — kheker, indicates the original top of the wall. In the central part, Sehetepibre is shown with its arms extended using a heavy kilt with horizontal lines and on the upper part there is an edge with fringes. He is represented with very large eyes and a rectangular beard.

These characteristics explain the original function of this piece. It was the previous part of a wall on the left side of the internal room of the chapel of a tomb or a votive chapel. To the left, a vertical column of hieroglyphs ornaments the border of the panel, the extremity constituted the left doorway of the internal room. (The inferior part of the wall was lost, and the final part of the text on the border of the wall disappeared with it.) The large image o Sehetepibre needed to be turned towards the processional route crossed by Osiris, so that he can “adore god,” and “praise Osiris… in the great procession,” as the inscriptions say.

Phallic Amulet
Macrophallic figure used as an amulet, representing a man playing a tambourine.

Golden mask
Cartonnage with gilding.
Over the faces of the mummies a mask would be placed with the dead’s features, in an idealized form. Frequently, these masks received a gold leaf applique, as a way of assimilating gods, which, according to ancient Egyptians, possessed gold skin.

Statue of lady Takushit
This woman had the sacerdotal role of “divine wife of god Amun,” for which young women of royal descent were chosen, preferably the daughter of the Pharaoh. This was the role of highest distinction that a woman could exert in Egyptian priesthood, which also counted as strong political power.

Canopic vases
Canopic vases were used to keep the viscera embalmed during the mummification process. The lids of these exemplars represent Horus’ Four Sons. The lid with a jackal head represents the god Duamutef, and the stomach was kept in this vase. The piece with the baboon head represents the god Hapi and kept his lungs. The falcon head represents the god Qebehsenuef and kept the intestines. Imset, with a man’s head, kept the liver.

National Museum in Rio de Janeiro
The National Museum, linked to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil that, until September 2018, figured as one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the Americas. It is located inside the Quinta da Boa Vista park, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, being installed in the São Cristóvão Palace.

The Museu Nacional/UFRJ is part of the Ministry of Education. It is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil and the biggest museum of natural history and anthropology in Latin America. Founded by D. João VI in June 6th, 1818, and initially based in Campo de Sant’Anna, it served the country to promote the cultural and economic development of the country.

Originally named Museu Real, it was incorporated to the Universidade do Brasil in 1946. Currently the Museum is part of the academic structure of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. The Museum located at Paço de São Cristóvão from 1892 — residency of the Brazilian Imperial Family until 1889 — gave to it a distinguished character if compared to other institutions of the area. It is the same place where the royal family lived for so many years (where D. Pedro II was born and the First Republican Constitutional Assembly happened), and today is the interface between memory and scientific production.

The National Museum housed a vast collection with more than 20 million items, encompassing some of the most relevant records of Brazilian memory in the field of natural and anthropological sciences, as well as wide and diverse sets of items from different regions of the planet, or produced by ancient peoples and civilizations. Formed over more than two centuries through collections, excavations, exchanges, acquisitions and donations, the collection was subdivided into collections of geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biological anthropology (including the remnants of Luzia’s skeleton in this nucleus)., the oldest human fossil in the Americas),archeologyandethnology. It was the main basis for the research carried out by the academic departments of the museum – which develops activities in all regions of the country and in other parts of the world, including theAntarctic continent. It has one of the largestlibrariesspecializing in natural sciences in Brazil, with more than 470,000 volumes and 2,400 rare works.