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The Egyptian Collection in the Kunsthistorisches Museum has its origins in the Cabinet of Coins and Antiques. The archaeological and numismatic collections in the possession of the Habsburg dynasty were united under this name in the eighteenth century. There were some very early Egyptian acquisitions, but the most important augmentations to the collection occurred in 1821 (nearly 4000 objects) and in 1878 (nearly 2000 objects). The origins of the Near Eastern collection date back to 1894 when 660 objects were acquired.

The acquisition in 1821 was mainly due to the initiative of Dr. Ernst August Burghard, a medical doctor from Székesfehérvár, Hungary. While travelling in Egypt he purchased all kinds of pharaonic antiquities, such as statues, reliefs, coffins, papyri, bronzes etc., on behalf of the Austrian imperial dynasty. Thus he increased the number of objects from a few dozen to about 3800. This may be regarded as the beginning of the Egyptian Collection as it raised its status within the Cabinet considerably. The objects previously in the collection also have interesting tales to tell. The earliest known acquisition was the statue of Gemnefhorbak (inv. no. 62) from the Late Period, purchased in Constantinople in around 1560. The provenance of the statue of Khai-hapi* (inv. no. 64) is rather remarkable - it was unearthed in Vienna in 1800, in a context of finds from the Roman period. In 1825 it was donated to the imperial collections. The upper part of a male statue of black stone from the Late Period (inv. no. 20; no name preserved), was acquired from Prince Stanislaus Poniatowski in 1799 in exchange for other objects. The funerary papyrus of Khensmose* ( 3859), of an extraordinary quality, was purchased in 1825 after having been offered for sale by the French consul Drovetti. Numerous objects, often precious and attractive, were donated by Austrian merchants or diplomats, including four of the five huge stone sarcophagi from the Late Period and two Sakhmet statues from Thebes, both more than life-size (inv. nos. 77 and 78), as well as several stelae, papyri, and other objects.

The great acquisition in 1878 consisted of the Miramar collection of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, brother of the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph (1848-1916). From 1864 on, he ruled as Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and was executed there by the republicans in 1867. The majority of the pieces in the Miramar collection were collected in 1855 and 1865.

In the meantime, great progress was being made with the construction of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It was intended to house and display the Habsburg art collections in a way that was both dignified and modern. In this project, the Egyptian Collection played a prominent role. Its galleries were luxuriously designed in the Egyptian style.

After the turn of the century it was scientific excavations that yielded the more important acquisitions. Foremost of these were the archaeological activities of Hermann Junker (1877-1962) in the mastaba field surrounding the pyramid of Khufu, undertaken in the years before and after the First World War. As a result, Vienna houses a beautiful and important collection of monuments of the Old Kingdom.

In the Near Eastern Collection, it is the monuments of the ancient civilisation of Yemen (South Arabia) that are the most conspicuous. The core is formed by the objects acquired by the Austrian explorer Eduard Glaser (1855-1908).