Wednesday,14 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Wednesday,14 November, 2018
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Remembering a Pharaoh

The life of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II is being relived in a major exhibition in Milan, reports Nevine El-Aref


Remembering a Pharaoh

It seems that the shadow cast over Italian-Egyptian relations is about to disappear. The ambassadors of both countries have returned, and the ancient Egyptians will be spending the autumn in Milan in “The Extraordinary Discovery of Pharaoh Amenhotep II” exhibition inaugurated last week at the city’s Museum of Cultures (MUDEC).

Remembering a Pharaoh

It tells the story of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep II, son of Thutmose III, the sovereign of a lavish court and heroic central figure in a rich historical period that historians have baptised a Golden Age.

A wonderful display of artefacts and photographs has been carefully selected from the most important ancient Egyptian collections in the world for the Milan exhibition. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has loaned nine pieces, and other source institutions include the Stichting Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, and the Giovanni Barracco Museum of Ancient Sculpture in Rome.

Remembering a Pharaoh

These museums and other private collections have loaned for the occasion statues, weapons, items from daily life at court, burial assemblages and mummies.

The exhibition also sees the collaboration of the University of Milan, which has loaned the original excavation documents for the Pharaoh’s tomb, as well as the collaboration of the Milan civic museums network, in particular the Castello Sforzesco Museum that has provided finds from its Egyptian collections while it is temporarily closed for renovation.

The exhibition poster featuring a beautifully carved marble bust of Amenhotep II can be seen everywhere on display in Milan, in the city’s streets, stations, shops and restaurants.

Remembering a Pharaoh

The MUDEC where the exhibition is being held has been turned into an ancient Egyptian ceremonial arena for the occasion. To the music of harps, young men wearing golden nemes (ancient Egyptian head coverings) and silver kilts in the ancient Egyptian style with golden collars and belts greet exhibition visitors.

Further inside the exhibition, the atmosphere becomes more dramatic, providing an impressive setting for the granite, limestone, marble, wooden, golden and faience objects on display. All in all, visitors are taken into a truly epic experience to explore the life and history of Amenhotep II in a succession of poetic dramatisations as well as an audio-visual demonstration.

Remembering a Pharaoh

Multi-media shows are used throughout the exhibition rooms, offering an immersive experience that conjures up the ancient Nilotic atmosphere of the Egyptian landscapes of the second millennium BC.

Architect Cesare Mari, the designer of the spectacular displays, said that the atmosphere had been produced through an ambiance of bright light and semi-darkness, as well as soft-hued, shimmering colours in the exhibition’s various sections.

“Blue in different shades is a colour used throughout the exhibition to reflect two key moments in the king’s story: his life and death,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that light blue had been used in the halls displaying the life of the king, while dark blue was used in the halls showing his funerary collection. In the main area there is a replica of the Pharaoh’s tomb relating its discovery and the mummies’ cachette uncovered inside it by French Egyptologist Victor Loret.

Remembering a Pharaoh

“Although the replica is built in wood and 20 per cent smaller than the original, it is always in scale,” Mari said, adding that new technology in the form of a “tattoo wall” had been used to decorate the tomb’s walls.

“This is the first exhibition on Amenhotep II ever held in Italy,” Patrizia Piacentini, holder of the chair of Egyptology at Milan University, told the Weekly. She described the exhibition as a dream come true and an ambition that she had had since 2008 when an exhibition was organised at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo about the discoverer of Amenhotep II’s tomb Loret.

“The opportunity came almost a decade later when the MUDEC decided to bring Egypt to Milan by organising an ancient Egyptian exhibition on this distinguished Pharaoh,” Piacentini said.

Although he was an important sovereign, Amenhotep II has never before been the subject of a monographic exhibition, and he is little known to the public at large. “Perhaps it is because he was eclipsed by his famous father Thutmose III,” Piacentini said, adding that the documents regarding the discovery of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1898 were also unknown until 15 years ago.

Today, these original documents are owned by the University of Milan, which conserves them in its archives. The public will be given access to them for the first time in the exhibition in a “theatrical” context, giving visitors the chance to recall the excitement of the discovery with the reconstruction of the pillared royal tomb.

“This immersive experience, focusing on the funerary beliefs of the time and mummification, allows the public to enter the sepulchral room to admire the treasures that accompanied the Pharaoh on his journey to the hereafter,” Piacentini said.

The artefacts from the tomb not only include the mummy of the Pharaoh himself, but also those of a number of New Kingdom royal figures that had been hidden inside the sepulchral rooms to protect them from raiders in antiquity.

Egypt’s ancient Nile Valley civilisation during the second millennium BC will also come under examination in other sections of the exhibition. Daily life, with the uses and customs of the social classes nearest to the court of Amenhotep II, is also illustrated through jewellery, cosmetics and weapons that show the technological levels reached in this period of ancient Egyptian history.

The theme of funerary beliefs provides insights into the lengthy and complex duration of this extraordinary ancient civilisation. The exhibition therefore sets out to inform the public of a double rediscovery: that of the historical figure of Amenhotep II, and that of the rediscovery of his important funerary collection unearthed inside his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Piacentini said that objects on display in the exhibition had been borrowed from the Egyptian Museum, among them a beautiful statue representing the great Pharaoh with strong muscles and a relaxed smile.

A second statue depicts him as a sphinx, while a third is his official statue showing him sitting on a throne. A black panther statue from his funerary collection is also among the borrowed items from Egypt, as well as the jed and ankh symbols of life, a painted wooden boat and two painted wooden statues of a goddess in the shape of a winged cobra.

Amenhotep II’s classmates from school became top officials during his reign, and some of these are also presented in the exhibition through their funerary collections. Children will be attracted to the exhibition through its use of lovable cartoon mice in its posters.

Francesca Calabretta, the organiser of the exhibition, said that its great distinction, devised specifically for the MUDEC, was that it harmoniously combined academic study with a captivating experience that would immediately engage visitors.

The exhibition runs until January 2018 and is sponsored by the Milan City Council.


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