For our May lecture we were transported to Ancient Egypt by Egyptologist Lucia Gahlin who gave a fascinating talk about the art and architecture of Ramessis ll, Egypt’s boldest Pharaoh.
During his exceptionally long reign of sixty-five years (1279 -1213) and having lived until the age of ninety, way beyond the life expectancy of the time, (he outlived his wives, his priests and his children) Ramessis projected himself through his art as a God in the way that no other Pharaoh did.
He built extraordinary temples throughout Egypt adorning them with colossal statues of himself and images of his wives. The Ramessis ll temple at Abu Simbel is notable in that it has four enormous statues of himself at the front with a small statue of Queen Nefertari, his first and clearly most favoured wife, at his side, his importance being strengthened significantly as she stands only at knee height. A smaller temple was also built at Abu Simbel which is dedicated to Nefertari for the worship of the goddess Hathor and is adorned with statues of the King and Queen.
In the 1960s these two temples were salvaged from the rising waters of the River Nile caused by the erection of the Aswan Damn. Carved out of a sandstone cliff on the west bank of the Nile they were moved 60 metres upwards and 200 metres back – a remarkable achievement.
To improve his status, Ramesses frequently re-inscribed the name on the back of statues of previous Pharaohs so that they would become him, notably those of his Grandfather Amentrotop lll whom he admired and wished to emulate. Other examples of modifications made were making the mouth smaller and the eyes larger.
Ramesses’s art gives the impression that he was a great warrior. The Egyptian version of the peace treaty between Ramesses and the Hittites was engraved in hieroglyphics on the walls of two of his temples – the Ramesseum and the Precinct of Amun-Re at the Temple of Karnak – and the accompanying images show Ramesses leading a battle to successful victory. Recent evidence shows that this was untrue and that Ramesses was indeed the original purveyor of fake news.