Monthly Archives: October 2019

‘Golden Mummies of Egypt’ – Manchester Museum’s First International Touring Exhibition

Glittering gold and mysterious mummies are among Ancient Egypt’s most enduring attractions – and the source of some of its most persistent cliches. Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, houses a world-class collection of such Egyptological ‘treasures’. For the first time, and opening in Buffalo NY in February, the museum is launching an international touring exhibition Golden Mummies of Egypt to share some of its Egyptian highlights and to ask questions about how we interpret them.

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Golden Mummies of Egypt examines hopes and fears about the afterlife when Egypt was part of the Greek and Roman worlds (c. 300 BC-200 AD). Wealthy members of this multicultural society still hoped for their dead to be transformed by the expensive process of mummification. By being covered in gold, the deceased might imitate the eternal radiance of the gods themselves. Blending Egyptian, Roman and Greek imagery, the strikingly lifelike painted mummy portraits are among the most haunting images from the Ancient World. Examining the meanings of these objects for their original viewers, the exhibition reflects on the diverse influences of identity formation.

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Gilded mummy of a woman. C. 100 BC. From Hawara, Egypt. Acc. no. 2120. Photo: Julia Thorne (@tetisheri)

Exhibition Curator Dr Campbell Price said: ‘Using our superb collection from Graeco-Roman Egypt, the exhibition is a wonderful chance to question why the Greeks and Romans were so fascinated with the Egyptian way of death, and why we are still spellbound today.’

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Painted mummy portrait of a woman. C. 150 AD. From Hawara, Egypt. Acc. no 2266

The University of Manchester has led research on Egyptian mummies for over a century, having acquired thousands of objects from archaeological excavations. The exhibition’s innovative visualisation technology brings CT-scans to life, but also questions why we are fascinated by mummies, what they might tell us about ourselves and the colonial context of their acquisition?

The need for such alternative perspectives is also inspiring Manchester Museum’s £13.5 million transformation hello future due to open in 2021, supported using public funding by Arts Council England and supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) thanks to money raised by National Lottery players.

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Wooden openwork panel from a coffin, showing Isis and Osiris. C.100 AD. From Tuna el-Gebel, Egypt. Acc. no. 11254 Photo: Julia Thorne (@tetisheri)

Director of Manchester Museum Esme Ward said: ‘we are excited to be involved in this once in a lifetime opportunity to launch Golden Mummies of Egypt .The exhibition will bring together world class collections, University research and an exploration of both the current fascination and colonial context of Ancient Egypt. ’

In partnership with Nomad Exhibitions, the tour consists of over 100 key objects from the Manchester Museum collection, including eight mummies, as well as masks, coffins, jewellery and sculpture. Tim Pethick, CEO of Nomad, said: “Nomad Exhibitions are delighted to have the opportunity to work with the team at Manchester Museum to bring this outstanding collection to the world. It is particularly exciting for us to be able to create an Egyptian age exhibition that focuses on the rich, but often over-looked, Graeco-Roman period with its diverse multi-cultural society and cultures.”

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Terracotta figure of the Egyptian god Bes as a Greek soldier. C. 100 BC. From Egypt. Acc. no. 11244 Photo: Julia Thorne (@tetisheri)

The exhibition opens at the Buffalo Museum of Science, in New York State, on Saturday 8th February 2020. From there it will travel to North Carolina Museum of Art in the Autumn before continuing to other US venues. Golden Mummies of Egypt will return to Manchester Museum’s newly built Special Exhibition Hall in time for the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb in November 2022.

Presale tickets will be available at sciencebuff.org on December 2.

Follow #GoldenMummies #GoldenMummiesBuffalo for more

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Object Biography #24: An erased stela of Tutankhamun(?)

This unobtrusive limestone stela (Acc. no. 2938) was found by Egyptian workmen employed by Egyptologist Arthur Mace (1874-1928) at the sacred site of Abydos. Like many other monuments set up there over the centuries, it might be assumed simply to be a tribute to the local god, Osiris, but the iconography and composition of the scene is unusual. Although found broken, and with clear evidence of erasure to the identifying inscription, is one of the most intriguing – but little-known – pieces in Manchester’s collection.

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Stela 2938. From Abydos. Photo: Julia Thorne @tetisheri

To begin with the lower register; this shows the expected figure of Osiris, seated at the right, with five figures approaching him – four of them uncaptioned and therefore unidentified. These consist of two women and two men, each of apparently elite status and in the pose of adoration – in keeping iconographically with depictions of kinship groups on many late New Kingdom stelae. However, the group is led by a royal male figure identified as ‘Djeserkare’ – the revered king Amenhotep I. This is unusual, as the overall iconography of the piece dates to very late Dynasty 18  – long after Amenhotep I had died. Usually, posthumous depictions of this deified king show him as passive and in receipt of offerings; it is also uncommon to find a king (let alone a deified king) leading – and in some sense in the same sphere as – a group of apparently non-royal people.

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Detail of the stela of the sculptor Qen, showing the deified Queen Ahmose-Nefertari and King Amenhotep I. MMA 51.93

The upper register is even more intriguing. It shows three royal figures approaching Amun-Re, who is captioned with his name and the epithet ‘Lord of the Sky, Ruler of Thebes’. He is accompanied on this top register by the standing figures of (from left to right) the deified Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, the ‘Lord of the Two Lands’ Nebpehtyre (= Ahmose I), and an active (i.e. living/reigning) king, whose name has been erased. The stela thus shows no fewer than three historical royal figures – reflecting an awareness of history at Abydos that is echoed in another Abydos monument (possibly a statue base) naming several kings also in Manchester. In addition to being regarded as a founder of the New Kingdom, Ahmose I is well-known as a builder at Abydos – while Amenhotep I and his mother Ahmose-Nefetari were venerated at the Theban workers town of Deir el-Medina.

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Ahmose I(?) embraces Osiris. Detail of a block from his Abydos complex. Manchester Museum 3303

The style of the figures, and the offering Pharaoh in particular, have a distinctly Amarna feel – but given the scene shows the worship of Amun, it can hardly show Akhenaten or his immediate successor(s). Tutankhamun is a strong possibility, perhaps a way of reasserting the dominance of Amun even at Abydos and reconnecting with the orthodoxy symbolised by older rulers. Certainly, Tutankhamun’s name was erased after his death because of his association with the Amarna interlude. His short-lived successor Aye may also be considered for the same reason. Horemheb and Ramesses I are also a less-likely possibility, as it is not clear why their names would have been subsequently removed.

It is perhaps ironic that the pharaoh who commissioned the stela to show his connection with great kings of the past should have been so conspicuously forgotten.

 

The stela will appear with several other objects from Manchester Museum in the exhibition ‘Toutankhamon. À la découverte du pharaon oublié’, in Liége in Belgium between December 2019 and July 2020.

The exhibition ‘Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh’ opens at the Saatchi Gallery, London, on Saturday 2nd November.

 

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