Masterworks from The British Museum on View in March
TOLEDO, OHIO. – “Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from The British Museum,” an exhibition comprising more than 145 objects selected exclusively from one of the foremost collections of Egyptian antiquities in the world, premieres at The Toledo Museum of Art on March 1, 2001, the first venue of an extensive national tour. Over half of the works on view – from renowned masterpieces to intimate treasures – have never before been presented outside The British Museum. The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and The British Museum.
“Eternal Egypt” is the first comprehensive survey to take an art historical approach to this great culture, examining the quality and significance of the full range of pharaonic art, as both a cultural expression and as a high art revealing fundamental human values.
Selected by Edna R. Russmann, curator, Department of Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, in conjunction with W. V. Davies, keeper of Egyptian antiquities, The British Museum, the works in the exhibition are arranged chronologically to reveal artistic development over 35 dynamic centuries, from shortly before the First Dynasty, about 3100 BC, through to the Roman occupation in the Fourth Century AD.
According to Russmann, “The chronological installation allows the viewers to see how dramatically this art changed over time and provides an overview of the richness and scope of this exceptional collection.”
The exhibition comprises masterworks in a variety of media, including stone, wood, terra cotta, ivory, gold, glass, and papyrus. A key contribution of the Egyptians to art history, the development of portraiture, is examined in monumental sculpture, statuary, relief, stelae, coffin lids, and papyri sections from the Book of the Dead.
The four periods into which ancient Egyptian history is divided-the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, and the Late Period-from the underlying structure of the exhibition. Within each section, the unique and innovative aspects of the period’s art, as well as it characteristic styles, forms, and genres, are demonstrated.
Among the themes explored in the section devoted to the art of the Early Dynastic Period (circa 3100 to 2686 BC) and Old Kingdom (circa 2686 to 2181 BC) are establishment of artistic conventions and standards; the rise of kingship and its decisive role in the formation of Egyptian art; the simultaneous developments in art and hieroglyphic writing and the interplay of these modes of expression; and the way in which religious and magical beliefs led to the centrality of the human figure in Egyptian art.
The distinctively Egyptian way of rendering the human figure in relief and painting (particularly on those that proliferated on the walls of temples, tombs, and pyramids) became standardized. A selection from period between the collapse of the Old Kingdom and the beginning of the Middle Kingdom is included.
The Middle Kingdom, circa 2060-1633 BC section focuses on the important developments in relief and freestanding sculpture, including the introduction of greater naturalism and new artistic forms such as the block statue. Egyptian portraiture, an invention of the early Old Kingdom that became a recurring genre in Egyptian Art, is also featured. While examples are evident throughout the exhibition, the full significance and function of portraiture is best appreciated during the Middle Kingdom.
The New Kingdom, circa 1550-1070 BC, which witnessed the imperial expansion of Egypt during the Eighteenth Dynasty, the religious revolution of the Amarna Period, and the Ramesside Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties, is represented by statues and personal possessions of renowned pharaohs including Amenhotep III, Akehenaten, and Ramesses the Great.
The growing sophistication that occurred during this 500-year period was reflected in newly elaborate self-imagery; the creation of colossal royal figures; the startlingly exaggerated stylistic innovation of the Amarna revolutions; and the revisionist art of the counterreformation that followed. Examples of jewelry, mirrors, cosmetic containers, and other rdf_Descriptions of luxury widely produced during the New Kingdom are included.
The Last Period, circa 1070 BC to 395 AD despite its increasing political weakness during the Late Period, Egyptian culture retained much of its strength, and art production continued to flourish. Egyptian art remained relatively unchanged by foreign ideas until the arrival of the Ptolemies (circa 305-30 BC) when it became increasingly influenced by Hellenistic style. This section examines the complex interaction between these strong but very different artistic traditions.
An important theme of the final section is the manners in which Egyptian art renewed itself, primarily through the imagination of its own past. Archaism, always an important factor in Egyptian art, is fully explored, from the question of which models were chosen and why, to the use of archaism as a vehicle for creativity and change.
“Eternal Egypt” is accompanied by a major catalogue published by the University of California Press in association with the AFA. It features a major essay by the guest curator, Ms Russmann, on archaism, portraiture, and stylistic innovations in Egyptian art and an essay on the formation of the collection by T.H.J. James, former keeper of Egyptian art at The British Museum, in addition to individual entries on the objects on view.
The exhibit will travel to Wonders: Memphis International Cultural Series, Memphis, Tenn., June 28 to October 21, 2001; Brooklyn Museum of Art, November 23, to February 24, 2002; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo, April 12 to July 7, 2002; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, December 22, 2002 to March 16, 2003; The Field Museum, Chicago, Ill, April 26 to August 10, 2003; and Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD September 21, 2003 to January 4, 2004.
The Toledo Museum is at 2445 Monroe Street. For tickets, 888/763-7486.