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Amice Calverley, the EES, and the temple of Sety I at Abydos

A fascinating article on Amice Calverley, who worked for the Society in the temple of Sety I at Abydos, has just appeared on the Heritage Key website here (see also the comment by Chris Naunton beneath the main piece).

The project to record the decoration in the temple remains one the Society's most significant contributions to Egyptology and its genesis is summarized in the introduction to the first of the published volumes, The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos. Vol I. The Chapels of Osiris, Isis and Horus (London and Chicago, 1933):

“In the season of 1925-6 the Egypt Exploration Society, after excavating for some years exclusively at El-Amarna, decided to transfer its activities to Abydos, where the uncovering of the Osireion, interrupted by the war, urgently demanded completion. For this task the Committee engaged the services of Mr. Herbert Felton, who to many years' experience as a practical engineer added the further qualification of being a photographer of high standing.”


A selection of photographs taken in 1925 during the final clearance of the Osireion, under the direction of Henri Frankfort. The enigmatic structure had been discovered by Petrie while working for the EEF in 1901-2 but the monument’s situation beneath ground level meant that sliding sand and water seepage had prevented its complete excavation until almost a quarter of a century later, when the problem was finally solved with the aid of a gravity railway pulled by water buffalos, and a steam engine pump.

“The presence of Mr. Felton at Abydos afforded a welcome opportunity for recording the admirable sculptures of the temple of Sethos I, and his negatives provided the nucleus of what was at that time intended to become merely a photographic survey.’’


Photograph taken during the 1925-6 season at the temple of Sety I. The image shows a partially preserved relief scene of the chariot of Ramesses II, followed by the chariots of his sons (shown at a much smaller scale), from the first court of the temple. Note also the presence of the photographer's assistant holding a scale against the wall.

“Between this first season and the next, however, thoughts of a complete publication crystallized, and Mr. R. O. Faulkner was sent out to begin a systematic collation of the inscriptions. ... It soon became apparent that a purely photographic publication of the temple was not practicable, and a modified plan was now conceived, whereby line-plates of a schematic character should be prepared at home on the basis of the photographs. It was thought that by this means an inexpensive, but fairly adequate, edition of all the scenes and inscriptions could be obtained, and Dr. A. M. Blackman, who had contributed several valuable memoirs to our Society's Archaeological Survey, kindly promised his assistance and, with the help of Miss Calverley, started upon the preparation of experimental Plates. In January 1928 Miss Calverley, who had been working under Dr. Blackman's direction since the previous August, was sent to Abydos to collate the drawings on the spot, as well as to supplement the photographs made by Mr. Felton.”


Photograph from the 1928-9 season showing a part of the well-known kinglist.

“Meanwhile doubts had arisen as to the adequacy of the plan that had been adopted. The high standard of draughtsmanship attained by Miss Calverley in rendering the sculptures suggested that the addition of the hieroglyphic inscriptions in purely schematic form would give a very incongruous effect, and little by little the project evolved into the far more ambitious scheme of which the first fruits are offered in the present volume. The development of a technique of reproduction such as is now being used must obviously be a long affair, and progress was hampered by the doubts felt by all concerned as to whether our resources would permit us to carry through a task of this magnitude. ... In the winter of 1928-9 Miss Calverley returned to Abydos, and was continuing the work, both drawing and photography, single-handed, when the visit of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Junior, in the company of Professor Breasted, led to that munificent grant which has completely transformed our enterprise.

Deeply impressed by the beauty of the painted reliefs, as well as by the excellence of Miss Calverley's results, Mr. Rockefeller evinced the desire to see included in our volumes as many coloured Plates as possible, and made it evident that, under stated conditions, he would be ready to finance the undertaking. Professor Breasted carried on the negotiations with Dr. Gardiner, who chanced to be in Egypt at the time, and before the latter returned to England he was able to announce to the Committee that funds would be forthcoming to publish the entire temple in the most magnificent form.”


Coloured copy by Amice Calverley of a relief showing Sety (Sethos) I offering incense to the sacred barks of Amun-Ra, Khonsu and Mut. The copy was published as The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos Vol. II, pl. 11; the original is now kept in the Society's Lucy Gura Archive.

“It was decided that the work should be a joint-undertaking of the Egypt Exploration Society and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and Miss Calverley remained, as hitherto, in direction of the work. We were now fortunate enough to secure the additional services of Miss Broome, whose artistic skill is not inferior even to that of Miss Calverley, and henceforth these two ladies have borne practically the whole brunt of the work...”

John Baines, who continued the Society's work at the temple during the 1970s and 80s, described the challenges faced by Calverley and Broome in recording the superb modelling and brilliant colours of the decoration in his 1990 article, 'Recording the Temple of Sethos I at Abydos in Egypt' (Bulletin of The Ancient Orient Museum XI (1990), 65-95). The combination of Calverley and Broome's innovation and skill, and Rockerfeller's recognition of the importance of the Society's task and subsequent investment in the project, resulted in some of the most lavish volumes ever produced in Egyptology, and one of the Society's proudest achievements. In Professor Baines' estimation, “The remarkable resulting plates in Volumes I-IV include a high proportion of the completed painted reliefs of Sethos I in the temple. ...it is doubtful whether they could be improved upon significantly as records of the decorated walls.” (BAOM XI (1990), 72).

Colour plate from The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos Volume IV.


Embossed detail of the titulary of Sety I from the volume's hardboard cover.

The photographs taken by Felton and Calverley, and a selection of Calverley and Broome's coloured copies are now kept in the Society's Lucy Gura Archive. In 2009-10 the Society is appealing for funds to help preserve the Archive in the long term. For further information or to make a donation please see here. The four published volumes are available for consultation in the Society's Caminos Library.

UPDATE 1 June 2010: The joint EES / Oriental Institute, Chicago volumes on the Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos are now available online via the Oriental Institute website see e.g. here.


Publication date: 24.03.2010
Publication date: 05.03.2010
Publication date: 05.03.2010
Publication date: 09.02.2010
Publication date: 09.02.2010
Publication date: 29.01.2010
Publication date: 22.12.2009
Publication date: 21.12.2009
Publication date: 06.11.2009

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