Step into the Past; Major New Cummer Exhibit Gives Visitors a Glimpse of Life of Ancient Egyptians
Wells, Judy, The Florida Times Union
Byline: JUDY WELLS
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Massive, larger-than-life statues of long-dead pharaohs, exquisite jewelry and lavish amounts of gold, mummies and spooky-looking, animal-headed gods: This is the stuff we expect to find in blockbuster Egyptian exhibitions.
"Temples and Tombs: Treasures of Egyptian Art from the British Museum," which opens at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens on Friday, offers some of that, but more of what we usually miss -- the humanity of those Egyptians. Each of the 85 objects brings us closer to the people behind the monuments.
"Temples and Tombs" will bring benefits to the museum and the city beyond a mere show, just as the only other big Egyptian exhibit to visit Jacksonville did 20 years ago. "Ramesses II, The Pharaoh and His Times" opened the Prime Osborn Convention Center, drawing 400,000 visitors to the city's reincarnated train station and bringing acclaim, new members and name recognition to the Jacksonville Art Museum. "Temples and Tombs" will usher in a new space and new era, this time for the Cummer. The Minerva and Raymond K. Mason Gallery's 4,800 square feet of space brings the museum into the realm of institutions that can accommodate blockbuster exhibits, be they organized and mounted by the world's major depositories or by a regional one such as the Cummer.
Bringing in such an exhibit is a "bit risky" financially for a museum of the Cummer's size, so museum director Maarten van de Guchte and his staff will track attendance and store sales very carefully. If attendance reaches 60,000, they will be quite pleased.
It should. Carolyn Hill, executive director of Temple and Toms' previous stop, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, said during its final weekend there that the exhibit "mesmerized Oklahoma audiences." She said it doubled sales and attendance, which was up to 40,000 people at that point in a city two-thirds Jacksonville's size.
The exhibit will look different at the Cummer than in Oklahoma City, but the objects are the same, conveying what was of primary importance to Egyptians 4,000 and more years ago. The show is divided into four different areas: The King and the Temple, Objects from the Lives of Artists and Nobles, Statues of Egyptians from Temples and Tombs and The Tomb, Death and the Afterlife.
The king, or pharaoh, was society's lynch pin, an omnipotent leader wielding life and death and acting as the sole intermediary between human and divine worlds. The gods maintained cosmic order and the king ensured them sustenance and residences on earth. Eliminate one or the other and chaos ensued because maat -- proper balance -- was key in the cosmos and in everyday life.
Temples represented a physical manifestation of this symbiosis, and each god usually had one or more. The Cummer's exhibit will echo the temples' form, with visitors entering through a pylon, or gateway, into a large space like an open courtyard, then moving through a multi-pillared hypostyle hall. It will darken and narrow into spaces like those in Egypt where only priests and the pharaoh could enter.
Priests managed the temples and daily rituals on behalf of the king and people, and cults frequently developed around the most important or popular gods. As depicted in the exhibit's Ptolemy I Offering to Hathor and Tutankhamun Presenting Offerings, gifts were bestowed, offered to the god and collected in treasuries. Larger temples were like individual cities: Priests and attendants lived there, security forces maintained order, craftsmen created adornments, workers kept stables and gardens and granaries and worshipers were cared for.
Each successive pharaoh continued or added to temple building, sometimes replacing past kings' cartouches, or names, with their own. Ramesses II, aware of this, had his cartouches carved so deeply that no subsequent ruler could usurp them for his own glory.
Visitors to the exhibit will be able to see normal cartouches on a pair of gold earrings, on the statue of Sety II seated, on portraits of Amenhotep III and Tiye and on the Lion of Amenhotep III re-inscribed for Tutankhamun.
Objects from the lives of pharaohs' officials and artisans inject a real sense of intimacy in the show: the palette used by a scribe that was re-inscribed to accompany him to the afterlife; the naked and kneeling figure of a servant; gold amulets of protection. Life was good for many Egyptians: The Nile brought ample crops with its annual flooding, there was art, music, food, drink and family, and the gods had blessed them with tropical weather, health and, in many cases, wealth.
Clothes were worn more as an indication of status rather than modesty. A loincloth or short skirt for men, a collar and/or simple shift for women often sufficed in this hot climate. Homes, temples and statuary were painted in the vivid colors that are Egypt -- the blue of the sky, gold of the sun, turquoise of water, red of the land and rich greens of palms and plants. With the exception of a few tombs, time has stripped away most of this, and visitors see a mere hint of what was. The colors in Egyptians jewelry such as the Strung Amulets with Clasp from the Middle Kingdom are as vivid as ever, though.
It wasn't death that obsessed the Egyptians, but life. They wanted as much as they could get and if maat were maintained, if their hearts was light and pure and if the gods were propitiated with spells, the tomb would provide sustenance for an endless existence.
To this end and to curry favor with higher-ups, those who could commissioned temple statues, paintings and stellae of themselves and their families worshiping the gods as in the Head of a Man from the Mut temple at Karnak. Often, instead of their own likenesses, those of a current, favorite or most powerful pharaoh were imposed on their carved or painted bodies in hopes the ruler's favor with the gods would influence their own. We don't know about the gods, but it has presented many an identity puzzle for Egyptologists.
In a tomb, statues of the deceased could be a home for one's ka, or spirit, should the mummy be destroyed. Many of these are unclothed, causing one Oklahoma youngster taking in the exhibit from his father's shoulder to announce, "Look, Daddy. He just came out of the shower." Egypt is hot, and a lot of statues, male and female, look like they just came out of the shower, too.
The final segment of the show is testament to how involved and carefully arranged tombs were. No decor was random. Games, food, emblems of responsibility and career, favorite flowers, perfumes, family members -- nothing was overlooked. You can see it in the papyri from The Book of the Dead and a painted limestone image of The Tomb Owner's Sister.
The "Temples and Tombs" exhibit does not include a mummy, and there wasn't one in Oklahoma City, but the Cummer has arranged the loan of one from the Dinand Library at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. It will be on display in a nearby gallery.
These artifacts give us not only an insight into the relative prosperity or tribulations of a period, but into the personalities of the people who lived then. And -- thanks to their foresight, the preservatives of dry, sandy surroundings and exhibitions such as this -- those who live now.
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IF YOU GO
'TEMPLE AND TOMBS'
(Major sponsors include the Times-Union)
Where: Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, 829 Riverside Ave.
When: Friday through Sunday, March 18. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays-Mondays.
Cost: Adults, $15; seniors, military and students, $12; museum members, $7; children under 6, free.
More information: (904) 899-6021.
IF YOU GO
Friday, 7 to 9 p.m. Members' opening celebration, with live Middle Eastern music, cuisine, dancing, art activities and costumed presentations of Egyptian culture. Members $10, non-members $35; advanced reservations recommended at (904) 899-6026.
Sunday, Jan. 14, noon to 5 p.m., Family Day featuring art projects, dance, an archaeological dig, story-telling; admission to the museum is free, special rates of $7 for Temples and Tombs.
Saturday, Jan. 20, Main Library auditorium, 11 a.m., Lives of Objects: Artists and Patrons in Ancient Egypt, lecture in partnership with Jacksonville University; $5.
Egyptian film series, 7 p.m., Ninth and Main Theatre in Springfield, $5 at the door.
Thursday, Jan. 18, Mummy, 1932, starring Boris Karloff.
Thursday, Jan. 25, Cleopatra, 1934, starring Claudette Colbert.
Thursday, Feb. 1, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, 1955.
Saturday, March 3, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., All Aboard the Boat: The Worship of Sun and River, a guided tour of "Temples and Tombs," followed by an excursion along the St. Johns River, returning to the museum for lunch; $52 for members; $72, non-members; $32, active docents; Art Connections, (904) 355-0630.
'TEMPLES AND TOMBS': SOME OF THE EXHIBIT'S MUST-SEE PIECES
Large statuary is impressive, but the little things are often what say the most. Don't miss these objects: They offer strong intrinsic artistic value and insights into the lives of their former owners.
PECTORAL PLAQUE: Amenemhat IV Before Atum (circa 1808-1799 B.C.) -- Fractionally larger than a postage stamp, this masterpiece of open-work from a single sheet of gold is so detailed you can see the owl's feathers. It possibly adorned a small jar of ointment or perfumed oil and has the only image yet found of Amenemhat, an obscure pharaoh who reigned for eight years and about whom very little is known.
COSMETIC VESSEL HELD BY A GIRL (circa 1390-1336 B.C.) -- Nothing in the lives of Egypt's well-to-do escaped an artistic treatment as demonstrated by this whimsical wooden sculpture of a nude young woman bent under the weight of an off-balance cosmetics box.
STRIDING FIGURE OF MERYRAHASHTEF (circa 2345-2181 B.C.) -- Carved figures were slenderized and elongated by the late Old Kingdom, as in this striking sculpture carved from a single block of ebony and mounted on a base of sycamore. Wood, which had to be imported, was more precious than stone and indicates the importance of this official. Depicted as a vigorous young adult, he is unusually detailed and positioned; note the shoulder blades and the asymmetrical torso that bends forward into what must be a rapid stride. It impressed the English sculptor Henry Moore.
HEAD OF A MAN (circa 664-595 B.C.) -- The granite sculpture is so contemporary in feel it could as easily have been done by an Aristide Maillol, especially with the bobbed hair style. The subject was possibly an admirer of Mut, the mother goddess, whose temple at Karnak maintained its popularity through the Ptolemaic dynasty.
HEADREST IN THE SHAPE OF A HARE (circa 1550-1069 B.C.) -- Not all Egyptian art was formulaic, as proven by this stylized wooden hare whose ears formed a headrest.
PAPYRUS OF NEBSENY: Offering Scene (circa 1400-1390 B.C.) -- There were more than 150 burial spells in The Book of the Dead, all designed to successfully see the deceased through the steps to eternal life. Nebseny was a temple copyist and may have made the drawings himself. Ptahmose, the eldest son of Nebseny and his wife, Senseneb, sports the hair lock of a priest and is making offerings to his parents.
OSTRACON SKETCHES OF LION HEAD AND NESTLINGS (circa 1295-1069 B.C.) -- On this limestone chip, used as a scratch pad, a student tried to copy the sketches of his master.
Sources: The British and Brooklyn Museums, Athena Review Exhibition Report, Answers.com, www.ancient-egypt.org, www.touregypt.net, timelines.ws/, Phouka.com and The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun.
Photo courtesy Oklahoma City Museum of Art
An Oklahoma man studies the kneeling figure of Nekhthorheb while a woman behind him looks at the Head of a Man.
Photo courtesy Oklahoma City Museum of ArtAmong the pharaohs represented in the Cummer's "Temples and Tombs: Treasures of Egyptian Art from the British Museum" exhibit are Senwosret I (left) and Amenhotep III. The pieces are shown here at the exhibit's previous stop in Oklahoma City.
Photo courtesy Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Visitors to "Temples and Tombs" at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens will be greeted by this red granite Lion of Amenhotep III Reinscribed for Tutankhamun.
Pectoral Plaque: Amenemhat IV Before Atum.
Cosmetic Vessel Held by a Girl.
Papyrus of Nebseny
(Courtesy of British Museum)
Ostracon Sketches of Lion Head and Nestings.
Photos courtesy of British Museum
Headrest in the Shape of a Hare.
Head of a Man
Striding Figure of Meryrahashtef.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Step into the Past; Major New Cummer Exhibit Gives Visitors a Glimpse of Life of Ancient Egyptians. Contributors: Wells, Judy - Author. Newspaper title: The Florida Times Union. Publication date: December 17, 2006. Page number: Not available. © 2007 The Florida Times-Union. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.