Journey to Another Life
The Dayton Art Institute
456 Belmonte Park North 800/296-4426 www.daytonartinstitute.org
Daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wed.-Thur. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Exhibit tickets (includes audioguide) $17, ages 7-18 $8, children under 6 free.
Lectures by art and Egyptology experts are scheduled throughout the exhibit. Visit the web site for details.
The ancient Egyptians certainly knew how to make dying an art form: necklaces made of carnelian, feldspar and lapis lazuli; finger and toe stalls of gold; ebony and ivory board games. These are just some of the accoutrements pharaohs were entombed with to ensure a successful journey to the afterlife. They're among the 100 magnificent items showcased in "The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt." The exhibit, at The Dayton Art Institute Sept. 1-Jan. 3, represents the largest selection of antiquities ever loaned by Egypt for display in North America.
"The technical ability of Egyptian craftsmen back then is amazing," says Betsy Bryan, curator of the show and chair of the department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as she marvels at the intricacy of the ornaments on display. "You can just see a jeweler hard at work in his workshop someplace, taking these ideas and making them into unbelievable art."
The objects, many of which date back 3,000 years, encompass the New Kingdom (1550-1069 B.C.) through the Late Period (664-332 B.C.). Organized by the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and on loan from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt's Luxor Museum and the archaeological sites of Tanis and Deir el-Bahari, the relics reflect a civilization's beliefs in what's next.
Religious convictions were linked to the sun, which Egyptians personified as the god Re. They believed Re died at the end of each day and descended into the underworld from which he emerged at sunrise. Wisdom held that the dangers faced by Re during his nocturnal voyage were the same ones faced by humans upon death. Funerary rituals associated with mummification and burial, as well as the objects Egyptians took with them to their graves, served not only as protection during the journey but also as essentials for a stylish entrance into the new life to come.
"There's no question that Egyptian art is a fascinating subject for many people," says Dayton Art Institute director and CEO Alex Nyerges, who expects more than 200,000 visitors to the exhibit. (He predicts it will be the biggest blockbuster the museum has had in its 86-year history.) "When it comes to monumentality, no one can top the ancient Egyptians."
Dayton is one of a dozen stops "The Quest for Immortality" is making during its five-year American run. Past venues include the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Boston's Museum of Science and the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas.
Nyerges credits The Dayton Art Institute's coup in hosting the exhibit to the facility's relationship with the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which was forged in 1963, when the first American show of King Tut artifacts included a stop in Dayton.
"When we made our pitch for this exhibit, we included the catalog from the Tut exhibit," he explains. "Our colleagues in Egypt thought it was very important that we had done a collaborative effort with them in the past and the time seemed appropriate to repeat it."
Gems aside, the exhibit's showstopper is the life-sized reproduction of the burial chamber of New Kingdom pharaoh Thutmose III, who ruled Egypt in the 15th century B.C. (1479-1425 B.C.). The tomb's oval walls are filled with hieroglyphs depicting the king's 12-hour journey from dusk to dawn, death to resurrection.
A mummy from the 21st Dynasty (1069-945 B.C.), on loan from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Atlanta's Emory University, reposing in its original wooden coffin and adorned with what is thought to be a funerary wreath of seedpods, leaves and berries, complements the exhibit. X-rays and CT scans taken at Emory University Hospital revealed that the body is that of a man who died sometime between the ages of 20 and 35.
The 2-ton colossal red granite head of Ramesses II, dating from the 19th Dynasty (1279-1213 B.C.), holds court over all.
"Most of us wrestle with the same questions of immortality the Egyptians did," Nyerges reflects. "We obviously cannot know until that fateful moment in which we are swept away what the future holds for us. The exhibit offers a perspective on life beyond this one."