Published: July 11, 2000
CHICAGO, ILL. – One of the most important international presentations of Egyptian art and culture in recent times arrives at the Art Institute of Chicago when “Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen” opens at the museum July 17. The first major exhibition of Egyptian art to travel to the city in more than 20 years, “Pharaohs of the Sun” is expected to draw at least 250,000 visitors during its run in the Art Institute’s Regenstein Hall, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Building, through September 24.
The exhibit sculpts a vivid portrait of the Amarna period – the revolutionary age of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Tutankhamen. It was during this startlingly brief epoch (1353-1336 BC) that Pharaoh Akhenaten assumed the throne of Egypt at its peak of imperial glory and – in a dramatic break with his already ancient culture’s three-and-a-half -millennia religious tradition – established the worship of one god, moving the Egyptian capital to Amarna, an extraordinary city that he built in the desert.
“Pharaohs of the Sun” is the largest re-assembly of objects from this prolific time in Egypt’s history since the city was abandoned 3,500 years ago. The exhibition evokes the Amarna Age with more than 250 works, including both monumental and small-scale sculptures, as well as reliefs, ceramics, and household rdf_Descriptions from public and private collections around the world. This wealth of precious objects – as well as a remarkable 20-foot, three-dimensional model of the city – will provide visitors with an intimate view of the daily life and culture of Amarna, bringing to light its place in Egyptian history and the dramatic forces that shaped and eventually destroyed it.
Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the exhibit began its tour in Boston (November 14, 1999 through February 6, 2000) – where it drew high critical praise and was a sell-out success, with more demand than tickets available – before traveling to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (March 19 through June 4, 2000) and the Art Institute of Chicago, and thence to the Rijksmuseum Leiden, The Netherlands (November 23, 2000 through February 18, 2001).
Ancient Egypt has held a powerful fascination for peoples around the world for more than 2,000 years; today, as much as at any time, there is enormous popular interest in the mystery and complexity of Egyptian art and culture. The sheer antiquity of the civilization is almost unfathomable to modern man – located in the valley of the longest river on earth, between two deserts, Egypt was the seat of one of the worlds earliest complex cultures. The length and continuity of the civilization is equally staggering, beginning with a predynastic period about 5000 BD, and lasting almost unbroken until the Fourth Century BC.
Within the broad span of ancient Egypt’s history, one era has engendered the greatest interest: the Amarna period (1353-1336 BC), the age of Akhenaten (originally Amenhotep IV), Nefertiti, and Tutankhamen. It was during this time that the New Kingdom pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti elected to abandon Egypt’s age-old multitude of deities in favor of a single god – the disk of the sun, known as Aten. The pharaoh, his family, court, and many subjects withdrew from the centuries-old traditional capitals at Thebes and Memphis and founded a new center for his new age at the site of present-day Amarna, called Akhenaten, the “Horizon of the Sun Disk.”
This spectacular planned and rapidly built city – which boasted a population of between 20 and 50 thousand at its height – was a place of magnificent temples and sumptuous palaces brightly decorated with paintings and tiles, gardens, pools, private houses, and tombs. But, soon after the king’s death, in 1336 BC his radical vision was quashed – the worship of many gods restored, Memphis and Thebes returned to their status as political and religious capitals, and Amarna abandoned – mostly under the rule of the “Boy King,” Tutankhamen, who, some believe, was Akhenaten’s son.
A 320-page exhibition catalogue, published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in association with Bullfinch Press/Little, Brown and Company, accompanies the exhibition.
Dated, timed tickets are required for the exhibition and are available at the museum, through the museum’s website (www.artic.edu), and by phone, 312-930-4040. The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 South Michigan Avenue. Museum hours are 10:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and holidays; 10:30 am to 8 pm Tuesday; 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday. For information, 312/443-3600.
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