The story of the Albany Mummies centers on two Ancient Egyptian mummies and their coffins, one dating from the 21st Dynasty and the other from the Ptolemaic Period. In 1909, the mummies and coffin bottoms were purchased from the Cairo Museum by Albany Institute board member Samuel Brown, a purveyor of coffees, teas, and spices in Albany.
Plans for a major exhibition began seven years ago with new research. Not long after moving to Albany, Dr. Peter Lacovara, Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, began working with Institute staff on the Ancient Egyptian gallery. Lacovara confirmed that the mummy cover belonging to the museums elaborately decorated 21st Dynasty coffin bottom is part of the collections of the British Museum in London, England, and the coffin lid is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. According to the hieroglyphs on the coffin parts, the coffin belonged to Ankhefenmut, a priest and sculptor in the Temple of Mut and lived between the years 1069 and 945 BC.
When the two mummies first arrived in Albany in 1909, the 21st Dynasty mummy was identified as a female. In preparation for the exhibition, Dr. Lacovara recommended a thorough re-examination of both mummies. On March 31, 2012, the Albany Medical Center x-rayed and CT scanned both mummies with surprising results.
The exhibition, GE Presents: the Mystery of the Albany Mummies, reunites all the components of Ankhefenmut’s coffin and interprets the world in which he lived and worked. The exhibition features more than 200 objects, with 140 major loans, including loans from: the British Museum, London; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology; the Semitic Museum, Harvard University; the Brooklyn Museum; the American Museum of Natural History; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University; the University of Pennsylvania; Williams College Museum of Art; the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island; Olana State Historic Site: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Albany Masonic Hall Association; and many private collections.
The exhibition addresses specific themes associated with the mummies:
- The first explores the 1909 acquisition of the museum’s two mummies and coffins from the Cairo Museum. What were the Albany Institute’s motivations for purchasing the materials, and what were the Cairo Museum’s reasons for selling the pieces to three different museums?
- The second section provides insights into mummification and the Ancient Egyptian conception of the afterlife, using the reunited coffin, mummy cover, and coffin lid along with funerary paraphernalia. It also shows the results of new scientific examinations of the mummies, using current medical imaging technology, conducted by Albany Medical Center.
- The third theme, featuring objects related to art and daily life, examines the world of Ankhefenmut and his roles as sculptor and priest.
- A fourth section looks at the archeological discoveries in Egypt during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A recent donation to the Albany Institute of Napoleon’s massive publication, Description of Egypt, Giovanni Belzoni’s Egyptian narratives and hand-colored lithographs, and Jean-François Champollion’s account of deciphering the Rosetta Stone will help viewers understand our own fascination with Ancient Egypt today.
- The fifth and final section offers a look at the revival of Ancient Egyptian art and design from the eighteenth century to the present, showing examples of Egyptian-styled consumer goods and products.
Educational programs, lectures, and events compliment the exhibition.
A forthcoming book about Albany's Mummies will be published by the Albany Institute and SUNY Press.
GE Presents: The Mystery of the Albany Mummies and its programs have been funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, GE, The Standish Family Foundation, The Bender Family Foundation, Bank of America Foundation, Albany Food and Wine Festival, The Sidney and Beatrice Albert Foundation, Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Albany Medial Center, J.M. Kaplan Fund/Furthermore Foundation, Woodland Hill Montessori School, Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany, NYSUT, UHY Advisors, Inc., Excelsior College, Tabner, Ryan and Keniry, Inc., The International Center, Archaeological Institute of America, A Better Bit, WMHT, and Times Union. Additional support has been provided by Heinrich Medicus, Christine and George R. Hearst III, Courtney and Victor Oberting III, Paul V. and Bonnie Bruno, Neil and Jane Golub, Ellen Jabbur, Richard Keresy, Peter Lacovara, Patricia Perrella, Steve Ricci, Mr. & Mrs. J. Spencer Standish, and the members of the Albany Institute of History & Art.
IMAGE: Mummy board of Ankhefenmut, from Bab el-Gasus, Thebes, Egypt, Mid-21st Dynasty, around 1000 B.C., EA 24797, Trustees of the British Museum.