ST. PETERSBURG -- The statue of Hemiunu presides over more than
four millennia of Egyptian history, his features the very
picture of serenity.
This life-size depiction of a Fourth Dynasty vizier -- engineer
of the largest pyramid in Giza -- is the pride of Florida
International Museum's newest exhibition, "Splendors of Ancient
But Hemiunu's visage has been the only calm face associated with
the blockbuster show.
The day before the exhibition opened to the public, workers were
still adjusting lighting, hanging text panels and wiping
fingerprints off the glass cases. And with good reason.
The museum had created and installed the exhibition -- 175
antiquities in 12 architecturally enhanced galleries -- in 2 1/2
weeks, working around the clock.
Robert Steven Bianchi, the prominent Egyptologist who curated
the show, called it "one for the Guinness Book of World Records."
It wasn't meant to be that way, of course. More than a year of
careful planning gone into the exhibition's original concept, to
bring 75 antiquities directly from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
But just 10 days before the show was scheduled to open, a major
reorganization of the Egyptian government created havoc, first
delaying and then canceling the original exhibition.
Luckily, Bianchi -- and Hemiunu -- came to the rescue.
Through the curator's connections with the Roemer-und
Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, Florida International
was able to negotiate the loan of the German museum's Egyptian
antiquities -- the first time the works had been allowed to
travel since the museum's inception in 1911.
"They literally gave me the keys to the storerooms," Bianchi
said in a recent interview. Together with the German curator
Arne Eggebrecht, Bianchi chose a collection of works that range
from the pre-dynastic era to the Greco-Roman period.
Although tired and hoarse from overwork, Bianchi joked about the
situation: "If you work 30 years in the field, you get of couple
James Broughton, executive director of Florida International,
also gave credit to the leaders of Hildesheim and St.
Petersburg, as well as the museum's board.
"This project could easily have been given up on but the board
and the community kept the faith," he said. "Our stars sure did
collide in the middle of the night to our mutual benefit."
In fact, Eggebrecht ventured that the Florida museum ended up
with a superior collection.
"In Cairo, the first-class things they don't lend at all," he
said. "But besides Nefertiti in the Berlin Museum, the Hemiunu
is in Germany the second most important work of ancient Egypt."
And because the Roemer-und Pelizaeus-Museum is beginning to
build a new facility, Eggebrecht was able to let his best
"With this collection, you can get an in-depth look into one of
the great steps of civilization," he said.
But unlike the museum's inaugural exhibition -- "Treasures of
the Czars" in 1995 -- the current exhibition is less about show
and more about substance. There's an increased emphasis on
artistic and historic significance and fewer magnificent jewels
and precious metals.
Visitors won't hear as many "oohs and aahs" but it's a show more
likely to attract repeat customers. Some of the galleries
recreate temples, tombs and causeways, including the Hippostyle
hall of the temple at Karnak. …