My Favorite Artifact

When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally.

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Encina earned a BA degree in Anthropology/History from St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY; an MA in Anthropology from George Washington University, Washington DC; and an MSI from the University of Michigan.

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Favorite Artifact. An Artist’s Sketch Slab. Limestone with red and black ink. Dynasty 19–20 (ca. 1303–1085 BCE). Bequest, Mrs. Irene Goudsmit. KM 81.4.18.

Why. “Sketch slabs remind us that not all ancient art is a finished product. Even the greatest artists had to practice or sketch their ideas before they executed and finalized a piece of art. This particular slab shows the hand of an artist who may have gone on to create wonderful art in a tomb, but this particular object was never intended to be on display or viewed as a work of art. It was mere practice to hone the artist’s talent or vision prior to creating the actual final piece of art.

“Some of the finest art of the ancient and modern world greets visitors to many museums, such as the treasures of Tutankhamun, the majesty of Versailles, or the genius of Picasso. Most often, the artifacts and objects came from the elite classes of the time. But the Kelsey, instead, focuses on the objects of ancient daily living. Sketch slabs were part of the daily life of ancient artists.”

About Artifact. This sketch slab preserves a royal Ramesside profile, with two beautiful studies of females superimposed. Vestiges of a lion’s head and a human arm are visible in the lower left, while traces of a hieratic notation appear very near the top.

Background. Different artists had different roles: one would draw, one would outline, and another would add color.

Find It. An Artist’s Sketch Slab is not on display in the museum’s permanent exhibition, but it is scheduled to be exhibited in the Kelsey’s special exhibition—Passionate Curiosities: Collecting in Egypt & the Near East 1880s–1950s—open August 28 through November 29, 2015.

Learn More. The exhibition catalog—Passionate Curiosities: Tales of Collectors and Collections from the Kelsey Museum by Lauren E. Talalay and Margaret Cool Root—will be available for purchase in the Kelsey Gift Shop and online from ISD.

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