Egyptian treasures on the Côte d'Azur
A princely inauguration took place in Monaco this week of the Golden Treasures of the Pharaohs exhibition on the exceptional goldsmiths' art of Ancient Egypt, reports Nevine El-Aref
A decade after the inauguration of the Queens of Egypt exhibition, the Mediterranean resort of Monaco this summer is hosting its second exhibition on Ancient Egypt in the shape of the Golden Treasure of the Pharaohs exhibition that displays 2,500 years of goldsmiths' art in Ancient Egypt.
The exhibition was inaugurated at the weekend by Monaco head of state Prince Albert II and Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany, who invited the prince to visit Egypt to admire its distinguished monuments and the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) after its inauguration next year. He also invited him to take a plunge into the Mediterranean Sea off Alexandria's eastern harbour where the ancient sunken city of Heracleion is located.
The minister of antiquities offered the prince a replica of the ka statue of the golden boy-king Tutankhamun, and the prince offered El-Enany stamps which the principality has especially launched for the exhibition. They depict the golden mummy mask of king Pseusenne I and a painting of Monaco.
El-Enany described the Monaco exhibition as a major ambassador for Egypt and one of the best possible ways to promote the country as a unique cultural and tourist destination. He said American visitors were fascinated by the Tutankhamun collection now on display in Los Angeles, and added that the Monaco exhibition would attract not only the Monegasque but also visitors from Nice and Cannes in France as well as from Italy.
The stakes are not only economic, but also political, as Egypt, waging a war against terrorism, sees cultural heritage and the treasures of the Pharaohs as a weapon against extremism. "We are fighting against terrorism and for what is dearest to us — our history," El-Enany said.
He told Al-Ahram Weekly that the exhibition included artefacts including the Yuya and Tuya funerary collection and the Tanis Treasure that will make up the core display of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and replace the Tutankhamun collection that will be transferred to the new GEM overlooking the Giza Plateau.
"We approved the travel of these objects in order to explain to the world that the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square will not be dead, as some have said, after the transfer of the boy-king's treasure," El-Enany said. He added that the museum's 116th anniversary in 2018 would be the occasion of its rebirth and second inauguration with a new display of its collection and the development of its halls.
Prince Albert said the exhibition was Monaco's way of paying homage for the second time to Ancient Egyptian civilisation 10 years after the state's first exhibition on the queens of Egypt. He described the exhibition as unique because it put on show the goldsmiths' art of Ancient Egypt covering 2,500 years of history starting from the First Dynasty right through to the Third Intermediate Period for the first time in Europe.
"It does not only show the gold work of Ancient Egypt, but it also highlights the sophisticated techniques of the goldsmiths' art and the distinguished and refined life of the Ancient Egyptian royals," he said.
Meanwhile, the exhibition poster featuring the gold mask of king Pseusenne I was everywhere on display in Monaco, dominating the city's beaches, stations, the façades of casinos, and luxury hotels, shops and restaurants.
Walking along the Monegasque seafront and its downtown area, it was easy to be overwhelmed by the density of the images of the silver sarcophagus of king Pseusenne I, the gilded mask of Yuya, and other images of ancient Egyptian golden ornaments.
The Grimaldi Forum, where the exhibition is being held, has been turned into an Ancient Egyptian ceremonial arena. At its front stand a pair of colossal replica statues of the Sphinx, welcoming visitors as they pass through a modern-style gate covered with a large poster depicting the mask of Pseusenne I.
Young women in black tied dresses in the Ancient Egyptian style and wearing golden and colourful bead collars and belts greet exhibition visitors and distribute chocolates decorated with objects from the exhibition.
Further inside, the exhibition atmosphere becomes more dramatic, providing an impressive setting for the 180 gilded, lapis lazuli, silver, turquoise, golden and faience objects on display. A collection of 149 objects were carefully selected from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, while the rest were loaned by museums in Turin, Vienna and Paris.
INSIDE THE EXHIBITION: Stepping into the exhibition, the visitor is taken into a truly epic experience to explore the techniques of jewellery production in Ancient Egypt, the source of its supply and its manufacturing secrets from modest miners to the pharaoh himself who owned many of these riches.
Visitors are taken on a journey through time, techniques and styles showing the relations that ancient Egypt had with other countries and that influenced the decorative themes and style of the work.
Designer William Châtelain, responsible for the spectacular display, said the atmosphere had been produced by an ambiance of bright light and contrasts that plunged into semi-darkness and the blue and ochre colours derived from the lapis lazuli used by the Ancient Egyptians. It recalled the atmosphere of the goldsmiths' workshops of Ancient Egypt through drawings on the entrance wall, he said.
Sylvie Biancheri, director-general of the Grimaldi Forum, told the Weekly that the idea of organising a second exhibition showing the magnificence of the ancient Egyptian civilisation had been born several years ago after the success of the first one held in 2008.
She said the forum team had been working on the preparation of the exhibition for more than two years in close cooperation with Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities to host artefacts put on show for the first time in Europe.
Biancheri said that the idea was not to raise revenue, but to show the world that Monaco could organise an international exhibition of the highest standard and provide a new kind of tourism and entertainment for visitors during the summer season. It aimed to change the image of Monaco as a kind of "European Las Vegas" into that of a cultural hub for archaeology, opera, theatre, ballet and international exhibitions, she said.
"Although holding such an exhibition has cost us 2.7 million euros, tickets are very cheap," she said, adding that the number of visitors could reach 75,000.
The artefacts are distributed among six pavilions in chronological order, inviting visitors to travel through the history of Ancient Egypt and marked by the discovery of treasures by archaeologists or tomb-robbers. It is punctuated by the statues of sovereigns at the beginning of each reign, allowing visitors to understand the periods during which the various jewels were produced and to whom they belonged.
Christiane Ziegler, the exhibition curator, described the exhibition as "exceptional" because of the quality of the works of art presented. "The Egyptian Museum has loaned us masterpieces that figure in art history textbooks: the Menkawre triad, the crown of princess Sithathoriunet, the mirror of queen Ahhotep, the duck bracelet of Ramses II, the gold mask of king Pseusenne, as well as many objects that have never left Cairo."
Prince Albert II and El-Enany (above) (photos: Gaetan LUCI/Princely Palace)
"The exhibition does not limit itself to presenting magnificent ensembles accompanied by documents tracing their discovery. It also examines the status of jewels, which are one of the oldest and most universal forms of artistic expression," she told the Weekly.
In the display there are objects that have never been shown before, such as those dating to the first kings of Egypt like the bracelets of king Djoser discovered in his tomb in Abydos, the stelae of king Qa, one of the first Egyptian sovereigns, and a necklace and a pendant of a princess found in Naga Al-Deir.
From the Pyramid age there is king Sekhemket's gold jewellery, the jewels of a 12th-Dynasty princess found in Dahshur, the earrings of king Ramses II from the New Kingdom, a delicate pendant adorned with the head of goddess Hathor from the Third Intermediate Period, and objects from the Tanis Treasure.
Prince Albert II, El-Enany, Al-Mashat, Badawi and Ziegler
Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat who attended the gala opening told the Weekly that the Ministry of Antiquities had allocated a booth for the Ministry of Tourism during the 60 days of the exhibition to promote Egypt and its tourism destinations. The logo of the international campaign to promote Egypt, "This is Egypt," was also printed on the brochures and signage of the exhibition, she said.
Sahar Talaat Mustafa, head of the tourism and aviation committee in Egypt's parliament, said that antiquities exhibitions abroad were effective ways of promoting Egypt. He had requested that the parliament establish a tourism committee like the existing economy committee to help do so, he said.
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