To Live Forever and The Mummy Chamber

Through more than one hundred objects drawn from the Brooklyn Museum’s world-renowned holdings of ancient Egyptian art, including some of the greatest masterworks of the Egyptian artistic heritage, To Live Forever explores the Egyptians’ beliefs about life and death and the afterlife, the process of mummification, the conduct of a funeral, and the different types of tombs—answering questions at the core of the public’s fascination with ancient Egypt. The exhibition will be on view February 12 through May 2, 2010.

One of the primary cultural tenets through thousands of years of ancient Egyptian civilization was a belief in the afterlife and the view that death was an enemy that could be vanquished. To Live Forever features objects that illustrate a range of strategies the ancient Egyptians developed to defeat death. It examines mummification and the rituals performed in the tomb to assist the deceased in defying death, and reveals what the Egyptians believed they would find in the next world. In addition, the exhibition contrasts how the rich and the poor prepared for the hereafter. The economics of the funeral are examined, including how the poor tried to imitate the costly appearance of the grave goods of the rich in order to ensure a better place in the afterlife.

Each section of the exhibition contains funeral equipment for the rich, the middle class, and the poor. The visitor will be able to compare finely painted wood and stone coffins made for the rich with the clay coffins the poor made for themselves, masterfully worked granite vessels with clay vessels painted to imitate granite, and gold jewelry created for the nobles with faience amulets fashioned from a man-made turquoise substitute. Objects on view include the Bird Lady—one of the oldest preserved statues from all Egyptian history and a signature Brooklyn Museum object; a painted limestone relief of Queen Neferu; a gilded, glass, and faience mummy cartonnage of a woman; the elaborately painted shroud of Neferhotep; a gilded mummy mask of a man, and a gold amulet representing the human soul.

Edward Bleiberg, Curator of Egyptian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, has organized the exhibition. He has authored the accompanying catalogue, which also includes an essay by the scholar Kathlyn M. Cooney; the catalogue is published by the Brooklyn Museum in association with D. Giles Ltd., London. The recipient of an M.A. and Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Toronto, Dr. Bleiberg is the author of several books and scholarly articles, among them the exhibition catalogues Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt and Tree of Paradise,both for shows at the Brooklyn Museum.

The Brooklyn Museum galleries of ancient Egyptian art contain more than 1,200 objects ranging from Predynastic times through the reign of Cleopatra. The collection, noted for its scope, artistic quality, and historical significance, was begun in the early twentieth century through Museum excavations and the support of collectors who donated works and entire collections. The collection of Charles Edwin Wilbour, formed in the nineteenth century and donated to the Museum between 1916 and 1947, and an endowment given by the Wilbour family in 1931, further strengthened the Museum’s holdings.

To Live Forever is organized by the Brooklyn Museum. Having traveled to four museums as part of a nationwide tour that began in the summer of 2008, the exhibition now comes back for a showing at its home institution. The tour will then resume, continuing through the fall of 2011 and taking the exhibition to an additional five venues.

Also opening May 4 is The Mummy Chamber, an installation of more than 170 objects selected from the Brooklyn Museum’s world-famous holdings of ancient Egyptian material explores the complex rituals related to the practice of mummification and the Egyptian belief that the body must be preserved in order to ensure eternal life.

Included in the installation will be a portion of the nearly 26-foot-long papyrus Book of the Dead of Sobekmose, acquired in 1937 and never before on public view, which has undergone more than two years of conservation. Other segments of this extraordinary document, which contains spells to aid the dead in the afterlife, will be added to the gallery installation as they are conserved. Throughout the more than 3,000-year-old papyrus, which contains text on both sides as well as illustrations, Sobekmose’s name recurs frequently, accompanied by the title “Gold-worker of Amun.”

The Mummy Chamber provides a look at the Museum’s collection of wrapped human and animal mummies. In addition, containers that physically protected the mummies will demonstrate the history of coffin making for humans and animals in Egypt, along with objects that illustrate the ancient Egyptians’ corporal and supernatural methods for protecting the mummy from harm and for ensuring a pleasant afterlife.

On view will be the mummy of the Royal Prince, Count of Thebes, Pa-seba-khai-en-ipet, and the mummy of Hor, encased in an elaborately painted cartonnage. Also in the installation will be canopic jars used to store vital organs of a mummy, as well as several shabtis, small figurines placed in tombs, each of which was assigned to “work” in the afterlife. The installation will include related objects, among them stelae, reliefs, gold earrings, amulets, ritual statuettes, coffins, and mummy boards.

In recent years, several of the human and animal mummies in the Brooklyn Museum have undergone a rigorous scientific testing, including CT scanning at North Shore University Hospital, to determine new information such as the sex, age, and living habits. Some of these findings will be made available in the installation.

The presentation will examine the various processes of mummification available to ancient Egyptians’ depending on the budget of the deceased. The most expensive involved the surgical removal of the brain and internal organs and an embalming process that dehydrated the body over seventy days and culminated in priests pouring an expensive combination of resins inside the body to preserve it—all of which was related to the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. Although the internal organs were separately mummified and stored in canopic jars, the heart remained in the body, which was wrapped in linen and placed in a coffin, finally ready for the funeral service.

Portions of a recently rediscovered video of a 1958 Armstrong Circle Theater television program giving a fictionalized presentation relating to the Brooklyn Museum mummies will be a part of the installation. The program recounts an incident in the 1950s in which Museum officials, believing that mummies had no place in an art museum, attempted to get rid of some of the Brooklyn mummy holdings. Several staff members of the Brooklyn Museum have searched for a copy of the program over the past several decades, and it was only rediscovered in 2009.

The exhibition was also organized by Edward Bleiberg, Curator of Egyptian Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

About UAA Team

Urban Art and Antiques first published in 2007. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, let us know. Email urbanartantiques (at) gmail.com

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