Cover image for When the pyramids were built : Egyptian art of the Old Kingdom
When the pyramids were built : Egyptian art of the Old Kingdom
Arnold, Dorothea.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art : Rizzoli, [1999]

Physical Description:
144 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 31 cm
General Note:
Published in conjunction with an exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y., Sept. 16, 1999-Jan. 9, 2000.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N5350 .A75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

On Order



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.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Written by British curator Malek (In the Shadow of the Pyramids: Egypt During the Old Kingdom), Egyptian Art is another in Phaidon's solid "Art & Ideas" series. It follows the tradition of other titles in The other three titles were published to coincide with the international traveling exhibition "Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramid," seen recently at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA). When the Pyramids Were Built is a streamlined version of the official catalog. With no index, it will not be a first choice for reference, but Arnold (the curator of the Egyptian department at MOMA) provides a well-written and very accessible text. Its readability, combined with the quality of the photographs and the modest price, makes this an excellent purchase for most public libraries. The 25 internationally respected Egyptologists who contributed to Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids provide a valuable look at recent developments in the field. In particular, the redating of many artifacts results in a very different view of the artistic trends of the period. The profuse illustrations vary in quality, but their sheer number, added to the high-level scholarship of the text and the three detailed indexes (general, sites, and owners of the artifacts), makes this an important book for all academic and most medium and large public libraries. Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo covers a much greater time span than the other three titles. The text, written by a virtual who's who in Egyptology, is a bit uneven--as is usually the case with so many authors. However, all of the text is comprehensible, and some of it (such as the argument that Tutankhamun was not murdered) is fascinating. Unfortunately, there is no index, but the layout is chronological, giving some hope of finding specific artifacts. The real treasure of the book lies in Araldo De Luca's stunning photographs. Often, De Luca sees with his camera's eye things that few visitors would notice. The book's large trim allows for many life-size illustrations, and at all times the illustrations do justice to a phenomenal collection. Highly recommended for all academic and most public libraries.--Mary Morgan Smith, Northland P.L., Pittsburgh (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Arnold (Metropolitan Museum of Art) offers a coffee-table book with large photographs from the 1999-2000 exhibit of the best art of the 3rd-6th dynasties of ancient Egypt. It includes both works represented in art history surveys and some newly found and/or appreciated masterpieces. Each art treasure is explained, and with a model or actual architectural site labeled with title, present resting place, museum and its museum numbers (for sculpture, painting, and minor arts), and minimal text. At the back of the book is a helpful list of each piece's size (in meters and inches) and medium, title, museum and number again, and the name of the fund that purchased or donated the antiquity. The seven-book bibliography offers the only glossary, index, and map information. Egyptian artistic conventions, neglected in the outstanding but already hefty complete catalog of the exhibit, receive a much needed description. There is an introduction, side-bar information, and chronology. Arnold is direct and authoritative, incisive, and thorough; her writing is often complex and allusive. General readers; undergraduates; two-year technical program students. E. L. Anderson; formerly, Lansing Community College