The Collection of Egyptian Art, counting nearly 4000 items, is one of the richest in its kind in Central Europe. It is unique among the other collections at the Museum of Fine Arts in that it holds objects which result from Hungarian excavation projects. At the beginning of the 20th century a Hungarian–Polish expedition carried out excavations in Central Egypt; in 1964 rescuing excavations took place in Nubia, accomplished by the aid of international collaboration; and then in 1983 the excavations at Theba also yielded a copious material. Several remarkable works of art, like the Statue of Crown Prince Sheshonq from the 9th century B.C., the 3rd-century B.C. Seated Cat, as well as the latest purchase, a 4000-year-old Magic Wand carved of a hippopotamus tusk, are on show in the permanent exhibition.
The inventory of the Hungarian National Museum reveals that Egyptian objects were already being collected in the early 19th century. Travellers and art collectors of varying degrees of affluence had presented numerous artefacts to Budapest's oldest museum, but large-scale collection and donation started only after the proliferation of excavations in Egypt and the study of Egyptology. Champollion's discovery, that is to say the decipherment of hieroglyphics, was a milestone in the collection of Egyptian objects throughout Europe. In the second half of the 19th century donations of Egyptian artefacts to Hungarian museums became common in Hungary too. Towards the end of the 19th century these had led to the development of such a substantial collection that when new museums were established, groups of Egyptian relics formed part of their first exhibitions. When the Museum of Applied Arts and the Ethnographical Museum were established, the Hungarian National Museum generously presented a significant proportion of its bronze and wood artefacts to these new institutions, keeping the stone objects itself. In the early years of the 20th century a Hungarian trader undertook to finance an excavation in Egypt, as a result of which the reliefs of a temple from the Ptolemaic period, together with coffins and their funerary accessories from a necropolis of the same period, came to the Hungarian National Museum's Collection of Antiquities.
From the beginning of the 20th century Professor Ede Mahler, the founder of Hungarian Egyptology, strove for the unification of Egyptian artefacts scattered in various museums and for the public display of items locked away in storage. After three decades his efforts were finally successful: in 1934 the Ministry of Culture ordered that Egyptian relics from all the museums in Budapest be transported to the Museum of Fine Arts and, after scientific study, put on permanent public display there. The first permanent Egyptian exhibition opened in 1939 with a guide of scholarly standard written by Aladár Dobrovits.
After World War II the rearranged Egyptian exhibition was among the first to reopen. Between 1948 and 1950 the existing material was augmented by important private collections, while in 1959 the opportunity arose for the Collection to acquire, through purchase by the state, new items to fill chronological gaps. In 1964 a group of Hungarian researchers led by László Castiglione was among those taking part in the UNESCO-led campaign to save archaeological finds in Nubia, and so material from the excavation carried out in Abdallah Nirqi also came to the Museum of Fine Arts as the generous gift of the Egyptian Office of Archaeology.
By the 1960s the Collection had outgrown its old permanent exhibition, so it became necessary to provide a new, modern and much more spacious exhibition area by converting the museum's Doric hall. The new permanent exhibition opened in 1972. Due to building work, it was necessary to close the halls between 1982 and 1985, and the rearranged permanent exhibition next opened in May 1985, when the new acquisitions obtained since 1972 were also put on display. It was here that several fine objects from the excavation begun by László Kákosy in Thebes in 1983 at the tomb of Djehutymes (TT32, age of Ramses II) were first exhibited. In the course of the Museum's continuing renovation, the Egyptian collection has moved once again. An even more spacious and modern exhibition area has been constructed and opened in1996 in the lower level, where the enlarged collection is presented to visitors in a setting appropriate to its status.
Szilvia Bodnár (ed.), Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, Budapest 2006.