ARCENCPostings

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Meeting the "Queens of Egypt" in Montréal - Nile Scribes

http://nilescribes.org/2018/09/08/queens-egypt-montreal/
Museums <http://nilescribes.org/category/museums/>


Meeting the "Queens of Egypt" in Montréal

Posted by thenilescribes <http://nilescribes.org/author/thenilescribes/>on September 8, 2018
<http://nilescribes.org/2018/09/08/queens-egypt-montreal/>

Having opened in early April at Pointe-à-Callière in Montréal, Canada, the new exhibition /Reines
d'Égypte
<https://pacmusee.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/detail/queens-of-egypt/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIlYLShvyp3QIVzbrACh2JawboEAAYASAAEgKuMPD_BwE>
/(Queens of Egypt) invites visitors on a tour of the east and west banks of the Nile during the New
Kingdom. The *Nile Scribes *were able to visit Pointe-à-Callière this summer and see this special
exhibition for ourselves. Including objects from temple, palace, and harem contexts on the east
bank, the exhibition also featured objects associated with preparing for the afterlife on the west bank.

A statue of the goddess Mut awaits the visitor near the entrance - Object No. C.769 (photo: Nile
Scribes) <http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/queens-egypt-montreal-entrance.jpg>A
statue of the goddess Mut awaits the visitor near the entrance – Object No. C.769 (photo: Nile Scribes)


Queens of Egypt

In the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, the museum's Executive Director, Francine Lelièvre
explains that the exhibition was inspired by a book on women in ancient Egypt by the well-known
French Egyptologist, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt. As a result, Lelièvre became motivated to seek
a partnership with the Museo Egizio <http://nilescribes.org/2018/07/28/museo-egizio-turin/> and its
director, Christian Greco, to bring a major exhibition on Egyptian queens to Canada. Aside from
Turin's Museo Egizio, which provided the majority of objects on display, /Queens of Egypt/ also
pulled objects from museum collections in Leiden, Brussels, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montréal. The
exhibit's narrative is set during the height of the New Kingdom and introduces visitors to seven of
its queens: Ahmose-Nefertari, Hatshepsut, Tiye, Nefertiti, Tuya, Isetnofret, and Nefertari.

From large statues and reliefs, the exhibition also has smaller finds such as this ostrakon with a
sketch of a prince - Object No. S.5637 (photo: Nile Scribes)
<http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/ostrakon-sketch-valley-queens.jpg>From large
statues and reliefs, the exhibition also has smaller finds such as this ostrakon with a sketch of a
prince – Object No. S.5637 (photo: Nile Scribes)


*Organisation of the Exhibition*

With more than 350 objects in the exhibition, the visitor can prepare to spend several hours meeting
a vast array of Egyptian material culture, particularly from Thebes during the New Kingdom. The
displays are divided into spaces on two floors of the museum: (1) on the first floor, the visitor
walks through a temple, a palace, and a harem, before moving up to (2) the second floor, where the
visitor meets the burial grounds of the kings and queens as well as the village at Deir el-Medina.
The village housed the craftsmen who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the New
Kingdom. In each room, projectors cast large clips from the recent game /Assassin's Creed: Origins
<http://nilescribes.org/2018/03/31/game-review-assassins-creed-origins-part-1/>/ onto a blank wall
to provide a visual setting to the displays: a temple scene, a view of the river, a reimagined
market place. In these spaces with the sounds from the game playing around us, it is easy to imagine
walking into a bustling temple and seeing these sacred objects in their original places.

Display cases are designed with colourful motifs drawn from Egyptian art (photo: Nile Scribes)
<http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/queens-egypt-temple-room-montreal.jpg>Display
cases are designed with colourful motifs drawn from Egyptian art (photo: Nile Scribes)

Display cases throughout are decorated with motifs drawn from Egyptian art and each object is
identified not only with a brief description, but also with a date, provenience (if available), and
the museum from whence it comes (often called a boilerplate label). The lack of provenience in many
cases is questionable and may not at first be noticeable to the viewer. In today's world, where
museums and other cultural institutions are grappling still with the reality of illegal excavations
and antiquities smuggling, we are obligated to continue the conversation about the provenience of
objects and how they arrived at their home institution. This, of course, is not to say that these
objects ought not to be displayed, but this critical caveat should have been highlighted more
effectively in an exhibition whose objects come from European and North American collections.

The tomb of Nefertari impresses with its lavishly decorated walls and huge sarcophagus in this
reconstruction (photo: Nile Scribes)
<http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/tomb-nefertari-recontstruction-queens-montreal.jpg>The
tomb of Nefertari impresses with its lavishly decorated walls and huge sarcophagus in this
reconstruction (photo: Nile Scribes)

The final room of the exhibition is a reproduction of the tomb of the Ramesside Queen Nefertari (QV
66), which is arguably one of the best preserved royal tombs from any period of Egyptian history.
While the vibrancy of the original tomb reliefs in the Valley of the Queens is impossible to truly
capture in facsimiles, the colours and simulated starry night's sky which hangs above her
sarcophagus transports you in spirit to her subterranean burial in Luxor. The lid of Nefertari's
sarcophagus, which was carved from pink granite, is badly fragmented today and is usually housed in
Turin's Museo Egizio. Accompanying the remains of her sarcophagus lid and discretely displayed
beside it without a label are all that remained of her mummy when her tomb was rediscovered in 1904:
a pair of mummified knees
<https://www.livescience.com/57054-mummy-legs-of-queen-nefertari-identified.html>.

The pink granite lid of Nefertari's sarcophagus and beside it, discretely displayed, Nefertari's
mummified remains (photo: Nile Scribes)
<http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/nefertari-tomb-queens-montreal.jpg>The pink
granite lid of Nefertari's sarcophagus and beside it, discretely displayed, Nefertari's mummified
remains (photo: Nile Scribes)


*Creating the Environment*

A highlight throughout /Queens of Egypt /was the use of immersive digital technology, effectively
creating an environment that brings the past alive around the visitor. While many such attempts to
incorporate digital worlds into museum displays are rendered in a simplistic, perhaps disinvolved
manner, the exhibition designers worked closely with Ubisoft (one of the exhibit's sponsors) and
succeeded in using it to enhance the visitor's experience of the displays rather than distract from
them. A local video game developing company, Ubisoft recently produced an ancient Egypt-themed
instalment of their long-running game series, /Assassin's Creed: Origins
<https://www.ubisoft.com/en-us/game/assassins-creed-origins/>/ and video clips from this game
provide the backdrop in many of the exhibition rooms (1). In several places in the exhibit, visitors
could also watch pre-recorded 'tours' through the Discovery Mode portion of /Assassin's Creed: Origins/.

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors find themselves in a simulated temple space where three
monumental statues of the goddess Sekhmet line the wall. Projected onto the wall beside them is a
reconstruction of how an Egyptian holy of holies (/djeser djeseru/) may have looked: the cult statue
of Sekhmet stands in a shrine at the centre and before her kneels a priest. This short clip of a
reimagined temple ritual from thousands of years ago helps us to connect with the Sekhmet statues
not simply as works of art on display for our enjoyment, but as sacred, cultic objects far removed
from their original contexts.

The exhibition space imagining the royal harem beside the river Nile (photo: Nile Scribes)
<http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/queens-egypt-harem-room-montreal.jpg>The
exhibition space imagining the royal harem beside the river Nile (photo: Nile Scribes)

These videos aside, the highly immersive quality of the exhibition is especially evident when you
visit the section on the Royal Harem. Imitating the interactive 'smelling stations' in many of the
Museo Egizio's displays in Turin, /Queens of Egypt /also incorporated five scent jars into the Royal
Harem display, described as the scents that may have been worn by Egyptian queens. To a backdrop of
the Nile river and sounds of birds overhead, visitors can enjoy the scents of myrrh, mint, cinnamon,
jasmine, and frankincense. In the Royal Harem, the exhibit attempts the feeling of an Egyptian
harem, though it expresses the western imagination of a Middle Eastern palace more than the reality.
A discussion of the archaeological evidence for Egyptian palaces and harems is conspicuously missing
from this display. In reality, what exactly do we know about palaces? The answer: not much. Many
people are surprised to learn that royal palaces were built from mudbrick, like all ancient Egyptian
homes – stone was reserved for the houses of the gods (temples) and the houses of the dead (tombs).

A well-known Egyptian papyrus called the Turin Judiciary Papyrus records a plot to kill Ramesses III
- Object No. C.1875 (photo: Nile Scribes)
<http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/judiciary-papyrus-turin.jpg>A well-known Egyptian
papyrus called the Turin Judiciary Papyrus records a plot to kill Ramesses III – Object No. C.1875
(photo: Nile Scribes)

A star of the exhibition is the Turin Judiciary Papyrus that accompanied many of the objects in the
exhibit from its modern home at the Museo Egizio. In large, beautiful hieratic script (the cursive
version of hieroglyphs), the papyrus records in great detail a plot to kill Ramesses III and the
resulting capture and punishment of the persons responsible. If the plot was thwarted, it seems to
have only temporarily delayed the king's assassination – his mummy still bears the mark of a deep
cut in the king's throat.

Three Sekhmet statues from the reign of Amenhotep III greet the visitor in the temple display
(photo: Nile Scribes)
<http://nilescribes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/sekhmet-statues-queens-montreal.jpg>Three Sekhmet
statues from the reign of Amenhotep III greet the visitor in the temple display (photo: Nile Scribes)


Final Thoughts

Despite the attention to the royal toilette in the Harem display and the starry finish with
Nefertari's tomb, the exhibit unfortunately leaves the visitor with a distinctly unanswered
question: where are the queens? While visually stunning from every angle, the exhibit feels ill
equipped to deliver on its promise of 'Queens of Egypt' as it is supported by such objects as the
/shabtis /of Seti I, a statue of Thutmose I, several private stelae, and a large collection of
craftsmen's materials from Deir el-Medina. On the whole, however, the exhibit delivered a memorable
Egyptian experience and we recommend seeing it if you have the chance! If you're unable to see this
exhibit in person, check out the beautiful exhibit catalogue, /Queens of Egypt/, which was published
by Beaux Arts & Cie in Paris.

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*Notes*

1. Also see our interview with the Egyptologist, Perrine Poiron,
<https://nilescribes.org/2018/06/09/perrine-poiron-interview/> who worked with Ubisoft in
rendering ancient Egypt in an accurate fashion.

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