Published: January 13, 2004
The New Orleans Museum of Art is presenting the first exhibition of ancient art from the Egyptian national collection to tour the United States since the Tutankhamun and Ramses exhibitions 20 years ago. Some objects that have never been on public display and many that have never been seen outside of Egypt are included in the show.
“The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt,” runs through February 25. Objects in exhibition were selected to illuminate the Pharaonic concepts of the afterlife, sustenance and renewal, and the relationship with the divine.
The exhibition examines the commonality of religious and philosophical roots among all the great religions by explaining how, as early as 3,500 years ago, humans evidenced spiritual development.
Ancient Egyptian beliefs and practices based on the afterlife journey of pharaohs are illustrated through objects from Egypt and a life-sized reconstruction of the burial chamber of the New Kingdom pharaoh Thutmose III (1479-1425 BC).
From the earliest times, Egyptians denied the physical impermanence of life. They formulated a remarkably complex set of religious beliefs and funneled vast material resources into the quest for immortality. The exhibition focuses on the understanding of the afterlife among Egyptians, in the period of the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) through the Late Period (664-332 BC). The New Kingdom marked the beginning of an era of great wealth, power and stability for Egypt, and was accompanied by a burst of cultural activity, much of which was devoted to the quest for eternal life.
The exhibition is divided into six sections: Journey to the Afterworld, The New Kingdom, The Royal Tomb, Tombs of Nobles, The Realm of the Gods and The Tomb of Thutmose III.
Among the objects in the exhibition are the boat from the tomb of Amenhotep II (Eighteenth Dynasty), an eight-foot-long wooden model of a pharaoh’s river ship that used to sail on the Nile, painted with scenes of the god Montu smiting the enemies of Egypt; the sandstone Head of Thutmose I (Eighteenth Dynasty), derived from one of the standing colossal statues of the king; numerous gold and jeweled rdf_Descriptions from the royal tombs at Tanis (Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasties), acclaimed as the most significant royal burial site since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922; the Canopi chest of Queen Nedjmet (late Twentieth Dynasty) that was made to hold her internal organs; and the sculpture of the god Osiris (Twenty-sixth Dynasty), wrapped as a mummy with a gold and electrum headdress shown lying on his stomach with his head lifted, in the process of resurrecting.
The last room of the exhibition is a reconstruction of the tomb of Thutmose III, ruler of Egypt in the Fifteenth Century BC. The original nature of this exhibition experience is intensified by the presence of magnificent and unique original objects from the Cairo and Luxor museums.
On the walls is the earliest known complete copy of the Amduat, the great text describing the sun god’s journey through the afterworld during the 12 hours of night when the sun god defeats his enemies in the netherworld and achieves rebirth at the eastern horizon to rise again in the morning sky. The king joins the sun god and the populace of Egypt follows along to share in the triumphant cycle of death and rebirth. The red granite lid of the massive sarcophagus of Nitocris, daughter of Psamtik I (Twenty-sixth Dynasty), is installed in the room.
The journey begins in modern Egypt, where visitors cross the Nile and walk back in time, into the sunset and the Underworld – and into the life and death of Thutmosis III. A burial scene gives insight into how a Pharaoh becomes both physically and spiritually immortal. Entering the next chamber, visitors discover the marvelous statue of the goddess Hathor from the Luxor Museum.
Together with the other deities, this goddess introduces the first hour of the Amduat where the first hour interacts with original objects to lead visitors into the next room. Here, the 12 hours of Amduat are explained in more detail, supported by original papyri found in the tombs. Next, the visitor walks through the antechamber and reaches the reconstruction of Thutmosis III’s burial chamber. Additional information is relayed by advanced interactive stations featuring touch screen computers.
Leaving the tomb, visitors walk into the sunrise and forward into modern Egypt – a physical metaphor for the reflection of ancient Egypt’s culture and traditions in modern-day rural Egypt.
The New Orleans Museum of Art is at City Park. For information, 504-488-2631 or www.noma.org.
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