Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exhibition: More re Queens Of Egypt in Monaco

Guardian Weekly

In the summer of 2007 the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco devoted a lavish exhibition to the memory of Princess Grace. Pursuing its policy of organising spectacular and costly summer exhibitions, the forum currently offers a show devoted to the "Queens of Egypt", which covers an area of 4,000 square metres and cost $4.2m to stage. Visitors are plunged into 3,000 years of Egyptian antiquity covering the reigns of Nefertiti, Cleopatra and many other queens. Laudably, the exhibition aims to throw new light on a little explored aspect of Egyptology: the role of women in the upper reaches of power.

In organising the show, Christine Ziegler, who was honorary chief curator of the department of Egyptian antiquities at the Louvre Museum in Paris until 2007, has tried "to construct a discourse on a complex subject that is both scholarly and intelligible to the great majority of people". Scholarly but accessible? The show strives constantly, but not always successfully, to strike a balance between the two.

While there is some sense in resorting to papier-mâché when evoking the myth of Cleopatra and Hollywood films, elsewhere the top-heavy design rather swamps the delicately wrought treasures brought together by Ziegler in her bid to bring her heroines to life. These include, in addition to other less well-known queens, Hatshepsut, whose face, painted in red on limestone, dates from 1479-1458BC; Nefertiti, whose face, sculpted in stone around 1350BC, radiates a very modern charm; and Cleopatra, immortalised as a Greek beauty, but minus her nose, in a 30BC marble.

Art Daily

With a fabulous photograph of one of the exhibits.

The exhibition starts with Cleopatra, the most popular Egyptian queen although she was actually of Greek origin. From the mythical image of Cleopatra now so familiar from films and advertising we move on to the historical figure revealed by archaeology and documents. The exhibition ends with another queen, less familiar to the general public: Queen Tausert whose tomb can now be visited in the Valley of Kings. She was the inspiration for Théophile Gautier’s well-known novel The Romance of a Mummy.

Between these two, the exhibition takes visitors on a fabulous journey of discovery through Ancient Egypt and the many facets of its royal women. First, their social status. Their titles were based on their relationship to the reigning king: they were called “mother of the king” or “wife of the king”; in some cases a pharaoh gave the title of “wife of the king” to a daughter, otherwise princesses were “daughters of the king”. Visitors are shown how the pharaoh’s close links with several generations of women probably derive from Egyptian mythology, the mother/wife/daughter association being a symbol of perpetual creation. Thus the Egyptian queens played a fundamental role in the renewal of royal power and in the pharaoh’s survival in the afterlife.

We then enter one of the most famous harems, at Gurob. Christiane Ziegler has entrusted this section to her assistant Marine Yoyotte, who is writing a doctorate thesis on the subject. The king had many secondary wives, some of whom were foreign princesses taken in marriage to strengthen alliances with neighbouring powers. Most of the royal household’s women and children lived together in institutions usually referred to as harems. A harem was both a centre of social activity and an economic hub, by no means shielded from the turbulence of political life. Echoes of palace plots hatched there from the age of the pyramids on have come down to us through the centuries.

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