|Publication Date||November 13, 1999|
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The Old Kingdom (c. 2650-2150 B.C.E.), the first golden age of Ancient Egypt, was a period that defined the culture's artistic style for centuries to come. It was during this time that the great pyramids of Giza, the only remaining wonders of the ancient world, were built. When Greek historian Herodotus saw these monuments in the fifth century B.C.E., he was told they were constructed by the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Ironically, today, 170 years after their hieroglyphics were deciphered and extensive archaeological research has been conducted, we do not know much more than Herodotus did about this magnificent era of Egyptian art. During the Old Kingdom, artists worked in an array of mediums and techniques, using wood, and precious metals to create monumental statues, reliefs, and wall paintings. Some four millennia later, these works of art maintain their power to move the viewer. "When the Pyramids Were Built: Egyptian Art of the Old Kingdom" is the catalogue that accompanies a landmark exhibition organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Reunion des Musees Nationaux in Paris, and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The show brings together 115 Old Kingdom masterworks from museum collections throughout the world. Included in the exhibition, as well as this volume, are sculptures executed with such an acute observation of musculature and body movement that they brought an unprecedented realism to the rendering of men, women, children, and animals. Several depictions of family groups in particular show the sensitivity with which the Old Kingdom artists illuminated human relationships. Individual masterpieces include the monumental statue of Heminu, thought to be responsible for the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza; groups representing the Fourth Dynasty king Menkaure with a queen and various deities; and a unique alabaster statuette showing Sixth Dynasty queen Ank-nes-meryre II holding her son, the child king Pepi II, in her lap. The lively text by Dorothea Arnold offers an overview of the history, society, and art of the Old Kingdom, and an informative discussion of each of the illustrated works. All of the pieces were newly photographed for this book by Bruce White.