Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

From here to eternity

By Nevine El-Aref

Ramsess II
Restorers are putting final touches to the statue of Ramsess II, the main exhibition attraction;
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This week saw the opening of an exceptional exhibition of Pharaonic art in the southern resort city of Cap d'Agde, France. Entitled "Looking at Eternity", the show was inaugurated jointly by Gaballa Ali Gaballa, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the French foreign minister, the Egyptian ambassador to France and the mayor of Cap d'Agde.

The exhibit is scheduled to run until January 2000, and large crowds are expected in a country whose people have always shown a keen interest in the Egyptian conception of the afterlife.

a coffin Osiris Isis
From left: a cartonnage coffin featuring a woman adorned with painted reliefs; Osiris seated in diorite holding his emblematic crook and flail across his chest; goddess Isis breast-feeding her child Horus
The objects on display -- 119 items reflecting the interplay of life, death and immortality -- have been lent by Cairo Museum. They include a collection of shwepte figures -- statuettes of workers who will assist the deceased in their second life -- along with statues of the ancient gods who accompany the dead on the journey to the underworld, among them Horus, Anubis and Osiris. The latter is a fine seated figure in diorite, holding his emblematic crook and flail across his chest. There is also a well-sculpted piece of the goddess Isis breast-feeding the child Horus, as he sits on her lap; she meanwhile wears a solar disk crown between the horns of the cow goddess, Hathor.

Also on display is funerary equipment dating from the 2lst (Libyan) Dynasty. "This is a unique collection," said Gaballa. "It is made of solid gold and the inscriptions and decorations are superlative."

It includes Canopic jars, complete with their distinctive human heads, which were used to protect the vital organs of the deceased.

One of the cartonnage coffins is particularly noteworthy. It forms the figure of a woman with her arms across her chest, and is beautifully adorned with painted reliefs of appropriate offerings being made to the gods of the underworld.

One of the exhibition's main attractions is a seated statue of Ramses II, which could hitherto be seen in the Cairo Museum garden. Four metres high, it is one of the most elegant portraits of this pharaoh to have come down to us.

This is the fourth exhibition of Egyptian art to be held in France in the last two years. The first, entitled "Fatimid secrets of the East", brought the wonders of Islamic and Coptic art to Paris. The second, "Glory of Alexandria", at the Petit Palais just off the Champs Elysées, centred on 70 Graeco-Roman objects from the Cairo and Alexandria museums. Its main attraction was the monoliths of Ptolemy I and Aphrodite, which had recently been retrieved from the sea off Qait Bey. The third show, "Egypt the Immortal", was also held in Cap D'Agde last year, when it paved the way for the current exhibition, attracting some 170,000 visitors. The organisers confidently expect that "Looking at Eternity" will equal, if not surpass that number.

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