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The Younger Memnon (Ramesses II)
The Younger Memnon
Artist Anon.
Year about 1270 BC
Type Granite colossal figure
Location British Museum, London

The Younger Memnon statue is one of two colossal granite heads from the Ancient Egyptian mortuary temple called the Ramesseum at Thebes, depicting the pharaoh Ramesses II wearing the nemes head-dress with a cobra diadem on top. This incomplete statue has lost its body and lower legs; it is one of a pair which originally flanked the doorway of the Ramesseum. The head of its pair is still at the Ramesseum.

Contents

Description

It is 2.7 m high by 2m wide (across the shoulders), weighs 7.25 tons and was cut from a single block of two-coloured granite, with a slight variation of normal conventions in that the eyes look down slightly more than usual and to exploit the different colours (broadly speaking, the head is in one colour, and the body another).

Acquisition

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Belzoni

The pair to The Younger Memnon, still at the Ramesseum

Napoleon's men tried and failed to dig and remove it to France during his 1798 expedition there, during which he did acquire but then lost the Rosetta Stone. It was during this attempt that the hole on the right of the torso (just above Ramesses's right nipple) is said to have been made.

The Younger Memnon being hauled from Thebes

Following an idea mentioned to him by his friend Johann Ludwig Burckhardt of digging the statue and bringing it to Britain, the British Consul General Henry Salt hired the adventurer Giovanni Belzoni in Cairo in 1815 for this purpose. Using his hydraulics and engineering skills, it was pulled on wooden rollers by ropes to the bank of the Nile opposite Luxor by hundreds of workmen. However, no boat was yet available to take it up to Alexandria and so Belzoni carried out an expedition to Nubia, returning by October. With French collectors also in the area possibly looking to acquire the statue, he then sent workmen to Esneh to gain a suitable boat and in the meantime carried out further excavations in Thebes. He finally loaded the products of these digs, plus the Memnon, onto this boat and got it to Cairo by 15 December 1816. There he received and obeyed orders from Salt to unload all but the Memnon, which was then sent on to Alexandria and London without him.

The installation of The Younger Memnon in the BM sculpture gallery by the Royal Engineers

Anticipated by Shelley's poem Ozymandias, the head arrived in London in 1818, where it acquired its name "The Younger Memnon", after the "Memnonianum" (the name in classical times for the Ramesseum - the two statues at the entrance of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III were associated with Memnon in classical times - they are still known as the Colossi of Memnon - , and the BM sculpture and its pair seem to have either been mistaken for them or suffered a similar misnaming).

British Museum

Another view of The Younger Memnon

It was later acquired from Salt in 1821 by the British Museum and was at first displayed in the old Townley Galleries (now demolished) for several years, then installed (using heavy ropes and lifting equipment and with help from the Royal Engineers) in 1834 in the new Egyptian Sculpture Gallery (now Room 4, where it now resides). The soldiers were commanded by a Waterloo veteran, Major Charles Cornwallis Dansey, lame from a wound sustained there, who therefore sat whilst commanding them. On its arrival there, it could be said to be the first piece of Egyptian sculpture to be recognized as a work of art rather than a curiosity low down in the chain of art (with ancient Greek art at the pinnacle of this chain). It is object EA 19.

Sources


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