Egypt’s Middle Kingdom is a transitional period that is key to understanding the development of pharaonic civilization. The Middle Kingdom, ostensibly the least known of Egypt’s three kingdoms, was a time which the ideas and concepts that shaped ancient Egyptian advancement were significantly changed, including the production of stunning cut gems and intricate jewelry designs that leave a lasting impression even, so many years after their creation.
Stela of the Gatekeeper Maati, Dynasty 11 (ca. 2051–2030 B.C.), From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes; Probably from Tarif, Limestone, L: 59 cm (23 1/4 in.), H: 36.3 cm (14 5/16 in.), D: 8 cm (3 1/8 in.), Rogers Fund, 1914
Throughout the Middle Kingdom (mid-Dynasty 11 – Dynasty 13, around 2030-1650 B.C.), social, religious, and political conventions founded during the Old Kingdom were revitalized and reimagined. Despite the fact that the Middle Kingdom monuments in Egypt are not as well preserved as those of the Old Kingdom, objects such as jewelry remain. These were wonderfully crafted pieces are a testament to the creativity of the period.
Elements from a pectoral. Middle Kingdom (ca. 1887–1750 B.C.). Haraga, Cemetery A, Tomb 124. Silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and faience. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift (2014.619.9–.15)
For centuries, jewelry was worn by members of the elite for self-adornment and as a sign of societal position. Armlets, rings, hoops, pins, belt clasps and special necklaces were produced using gold and silver decorated with valuable stones, for example, lapis lazuli, turquoise, carnelian and amethyst. Faience and glass were likewise used to enhance pieces of jewelry.
Left. Necklaces found at Thebes on the mummy of the Princess Muyet. Reign of Neb-hepet-Re-Montu-hotpe of the Eleventh Dynasty. Right. Gold circlet and hair ornaments of the lady Senebtisy from her tomb at el Lisht. Early Twelfth Dynasty.
With the Twelfth Dynasty, we witness an incredible extension of aesthetic articulation in Egypt. Putting an end to the social disturbance of the prior time period, the traditions of the Middle Kingdom included incredible advancements in gold working methods. High caliber, extremely pure gold and silver were the main metals utilized in the fabrication of Middle Kingdom jewelry.
Jewelry Elements, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, late (ca. 1878–1805 B.C.), Probably from Memphite Region, Dahshur, de Morgan excavations, 1894–95; From Egypt, Gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, overall: l. 7 cm (2 3/4 in); spacers: w. 0.7 cm (1/4 in); h. 0.6 cm (1/ 4 in); shells: diam. 1.3 cm (1/2 in); mace beads l. 1.4 cm (9/16 in), Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926
Necklace of Wah, Middle Kingdom(ca. 1981–1975 B.C.), From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Southern Asasif, Tomb of Wah (MMA 1102), Mummy, bandages at neck, MMA excavations, 1920, Silver, linen cord, L. of necklace 70.5 cm (27 3/4 in.); Greatest diam. 3.2 cm (1 1/4 in.); Smallest diam. 2.5 cm (1 in.), Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1940
Among the wide variety of the motifs favored for charms and gems during this period in ancient Egypt include our Middle Kingdom knot. In Egyptian daily life, the square knot was utilized in funerary contexts. This mystical use built a connection between knots and protective purposes – the knot was believed to contain protective spells or ward off enemies.
In 1904, The Met received as a gift from the Egypt Exploration Fund a broad and intriguing group of adornments from a tomb of the Twelfth Dynasty at Abydos. Unfortunately, the chamber containing the jewelry had been tremendously disturbed by falls of rock, and the debris with little data on their original arrangement. Among the pieces, four different bracelets comprise of double strands of silver wire twisted to frame circular loops with the finishes combined together in elaborate square knots.
Knot bracelet, Middle Kingdom (ca. 1850–1775 B.C.): The piece is part of a group of objects found in tomb V21 at Abydos with two bodies.
Our handsome two-tone knot bracelet evokes silver knot bracelets made in ancient Egypt’s Dynasty 12 to early Dynasty 13 (ca. 1850-1775 B.C.). Most common in the Middle Kingdom, bracelets of this type were based on the belief that protective spells could be bound to the wearer through a knot – a motif used in jewelry for centuries.
Inspired by the artisans of ancient Egypt, we have enhanced this Met Store favorite using sterling silver and 18K vermeil. See our full Middle Kingdom Knot collection at store.metmuseum.org