Amice: her life and her wonders!


As I, since a long time, share some of the interesting reportages from the égyptophile site on Facebook, I’ve found this old research about this wonderful woman who has deserved a respect in the history of not only Egyptology but the whole humanity. ❤ ❤

PS: I tried as always to get it from French into English, you might excuse me for one or two failure 😀 😉

Because I didn’t get any new post from I decided to have a look in the collection of the site and there I found a magnificent woman who really deserves to be known as a great one in the Egyptology history. With heartfelt thanks to Marie Grillot & Marc Chartier

It was on April 9, 1896, in Chelsea that Cybil and Edmund Calverley became parents of a little girl. They will call her Amice … and we can really say that the fairies bent over her cradle.

She is talented, brilliant, talented, musician, composer, designer … To all this, she adds unparalleled altruism. She will be a nurse, take care of the poor, the wounded of life, the poor. It will be on all fronts, a little “daredevil” perhaps, hyper-active certainly, but always infinitely faithful to its ideals. She will also be an aviator, a war photographer engaged in various conflicts.

All she does, she does it with a passionate passion.

She spent her childhood in England – that she left sometime later because her family moved to South Africa – but that’s where she comes back to study the piano. When her parents move to Canada, she leaves with them and continues her music studies in Toronto.

During the First World War, she works in a hospital. She then moved to New York where she became a model and fashion designer. In 1922, she returned to England where she joined the Royal College of Music. She will even write an opera in 1926!

Then a meeting will “guide” her life: that of archaeologist Leonard Woolley. She is totally seduced, fascinated even, by his drawing skills and this encourages her in this way. She then joins the Ashmolean museum and it is there, really, that her career in Egyptology is profiled. There she meets photographer A. Blackman who works for Egypt Exploration Found. She performs the complete survey of the temple of Sethi I at Abydos but is not completely satisfied with the result. She aims at a work of higher quality, with, as to say, more relief. The photos, it seems, do not make what a real copyist job could do.

on the left: Sety I, offering incense to Osiris, who is protected by Isis; right: Seti I kneeling in front of Osiris, protected by Isis

Amice is then recruited by the EEF; she arrives for the first time in Abydos in 1928. It is under the direction of Alan Gardiner whom she begins her work. She copies the scenes, the hieroglyphics, with a talent that subdues and admires those who are lucky enough to see her. She innovates, manages to make reliefs and colours like never before. During the second season of work, James Henri Breasted of the University of Chicago travels to Edfou with billionaire John D. Rockefeller. Like Breasted, he is blown away by the quality of prints and wants to highlight them.

Seti I offers incense to the sacred emblems of Osiris

He decides to contribute financially to the publication of the drawings and paintings in a joint project EES and the Oriental Institute of Chicago. These are four large and beautiful volumes that will be published. A work of unmatched quality, and so beautiful that it will remain, in a way, almost confidential for fear of damaging the boards! Amice, project manager, now has a collaborator, Miss Myrtle F. Broome, “whose talents were barely inferior”.

Myrtle F.Broome and Amice Calverley

Breasted is at a loss for words to praise the extraordinary work they do! He will admit that it seems impossible to find women more expert and more brilliant. The concentration must be extreme because the recording of the scenes requires special attention. No place is left for personal interpretation. All this is rather “primary” working conditions: they are perched sometimes on scales more than 10 m from the ground and under a heat often overwhelming!

The Abydos team is enriched by a Canadian Egyptologist, an Austrian photographer who also does an excellent job while the good mood reigns on the mission.

Amice cannot help but “socializing” and humanitarian. “The hospitality of the Abydos mission is known and recognized: several times a week, after nine hours spent working in the temple, Miss Calverley runs a clinic for the villagers.” She lavishes care, remedies, for babies, the sick and wounded, and even gives advice on diet. She is eager for contacts and human relationships. Thus, “in her raw brick house, she received many visitors, sometimes even members of the royal family, but she took as much interest in the life of the villagers, who returned it well by inviting her with her team to their homes. parties and celebrations “.

When Amice is not in Egypt, she is in Greece, Crete, Rumania, or even in the Balkans or Austria. In the 1930s, she took the time to write a quartet and also learned to fly a plane. In Egypt, she has an automobile (something rare at the time!) That allows her to easily reach Abydos from Cairo. During the Second World War, she joined England where she served in the humanitarian field, including a hospital for disabled children. It also films conflicts: it shows their barbarity and the damage they cause. She also works to ensure that the wounds and post-traumatic effects of wars are recognized and compensated. In 1947, after multiple episodes – impossible to tell them all! – she’s back in Abydos. An epidemic of cholera is rife there. She will arrange for vaccines that she will inoculate to all the villagers as well as the English and Americans who park there. At 63, she suffered from two successive heart attacks and on April 10, 1959, ended her rich and beautiful life. Alan Gardiner pays her a magnificent tribute, recognizing her not only as one of the greatest Egyptologists but as “among the most remarkable women of her time”, “among the most remarkable women of her time!”

Can we dream of a better recognition? More beautiful words? What is certain is that they are fine with her, because everything we read about Amice Calverley makes her as endearing as she is admirable. And one can not help wondering about the why of her lack of notoriety. Why did not such a woman, who in all respects really is a “great lady”, attain the notoriety she deserved to have? The question remains open … and this woman, you’ve understood, is a real heroine!

Marie Grillot

M.L. Bierbrier, editor, Who Was Who in Egyptology, third revised edition, London, 1995 Calverley, Amice Mary (1896-1959)
Janet Leveson-Gower, “Amice Calverley”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 45 (1959),85-87.
Sir Alan Gardiner, My Working Years, London (privately printed), 1962.
Winifred Needler, introduction to The Amice Mary Calverley Memorial Exhibition presented by the Art and Archaeology Division of the Royal Ontario Museum.January 27th to February 21st 1960. Toronto: 1960.
The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos copied by Amice M. Calverley, with the Assistance of Myrtle F. Broome and edited by Alan H. Gardiner. (London: The Egypt Exploration Society; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933-58),Vols. 1-4
See more photos of Amice Calverley’s former home.

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