Around Cal

Berkeley Magazine, Summer 1999


One of the most prized possessions in the campus's Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology traveled to the Louvre Museum in Paris this spring and is now part of a major exhibit on Egypt's Old Kingdom.

So precious is this artifact -- an extraordinarily painted and carved stela, or stone slab, that bears the likeness of Prince Wepemnofret (IVth Dynasty, 2630-2524 B.C.) -- that it was escorted every step of the way by the museum's conservator, Madeleine Fang.

Fang also will fly with "Wepe" (pronounced WHEP'-pee), the museum staff's nickname for the stela, when it leaves the Louvre late this summer for a Sept. 7 opening at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"We're very concerned about Wepe," said Fang. "He hasn't traveled before, at least not for an exhibit."

Fang will make sure Wepe isn't left sitting in the sun on a runway or opened during customs inspection, thus destroying the controlled microclimate within the stela's padded crate.

In 1961, the exquisite artifact was taken to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for major conservation work. But, aside from that journey, the 17- by 28-inch treasure hasn't left Berkeley since it was acquired in 1907.

The stela was discovered in 1905 adjacent to the prince's empty tomb at Giza by archaeologist George Reisner. He headed UC's Hearst expedition to that region of the Great Pyramids.

The object had been sealed behind a wall of stone slabs that protected its surface for almost five millennia. The depiction of a young prince and surrounding hieroglyphic symbols are in relief, so finely done that a figure of a frog shows its mottled skin. Wepe and five other Egyptian objects from the Hearst museum are in the Louvre's special Egyptian exhibit through July 12. After their New York visit, they travel to Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum for an opening on Feb. 12, 2000.

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