Monday, April 8, 2013

'Echoes' may resonate with just about everyone

by Phyllis A.S. Boros
Published 1:49 pm, Thursday, April 4, 2013

Regardless of age, gender, religion or ethnic background, one thing unites most of the world: a fascination with Ancient Egypt. On both scholarly and popular levels, interest is an "almost universal phenomenon."

With that awareness, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History will embark on one of its most ambitious exhibits of recent years: "Echoes of Egypt: Conjuring the Land of the Pharaohs."

Incorporating more than 100 objects from various Yale University collections, as well as those on loan from other prestigious institutions around the country, "Echoes of Egypt" is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors during its run, Saturday, April 13, through Saturday, Jan. 4.

Curator of the landmark exhibition is Dr. Colleen Manassa, an associate professor of Egyptology at Yale's department of Near Eastern languages and civilizations. She is credited as author or co-author of five books and more than 20 articles and directs an on-going archaeological expedition at the Moalla Survey Project in Egypt.

The overall aim of the exhibition, Manassa said, is to help "merge interest in modern Egypt with interest in ancient Egypt ... and to look at how Egypt has been re-imagined through the millennia" influencing art, architecture and literature in a host of different periods and cultures.

Paintings, literary works, movie posters and ancient artifacts are used to tell the story.
Although many of us are transfixed by Egypt, such a reaction is not new or unusual, Manassa said.

She referred to an 1845 quote by Denison Olmstead, a professor of astronomy and natural philosophy at Yale University, at the laying of the cornerstone of the New Haven City Burial Ground (Grove Street Cemetery) gateway. Built in an Egyptian Revival style, the gateway was designed by Henry Austin and completed in 1847.

Written nearly 170 years ago, Olmstead's remarks seem to be as fitting today: "Dignified and beautifully proportioned, [the gateway] is symbolic of an attitude toward the dead and their part in the hereafter, expressive, but respectful and reverential, which arose in the valley of the Nile centuries before Christianity and is consequently so detached from modern creeds, prejudices or sentiments that it can appeal to any belief."

Manassa said that quote speaks to the enduring awe for ancient Egypt.

Two years in the making, the exhibition will include "one of the most diverse collections of ancient Egyptian-influenced objects ever assembled," Manassa said, adding that the exhibit will reflect a range of cultures.

Visitors will enter the exhibit through a scaled-down reproduction of the cemetery's famous gateway, or pylon. Other highlights will include a display on the meaning and changing uses of hieroglyphs; a unique copy of a medieval Arabic attempt to translate hieroglyphs, on loan from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, never before displayed in the United States; and a diorama that depicts a mummy unwrapping in 19th-century Philadelphia, complete with Pa-Ib, a 4,000 year-old-female mummy on loan from Bridgeport's Barnum Museum.

"We're always very happy to partner with a neighboring institution," said Barnum Museum Registrar Melissa Houston.

Egyptology fans take note: On Saturday, April 13, the Peabody will post on its website directions for a driving tour of Connecticut of several monuments and other sites done in Egyptian Revival designs.

Some events planned in conjunction with the exhibit:

"The Egyptian Heritage in the Digital Age," with Dr. Fathi Saleh, professor of computer engineering at Cairo University, founder and emeritus director of CULTNAT, Egypt's new archaeological database, Saturday, April 13, at 5:30 p.m., reception to follow.

"Coptic Fabrics and the Fauves," with Nancy Arthur Hoskins, independent textile scholar, Monday, April 15, at 5:30 p.m.

"David Roberts: A Victorian Artist Footloose in Egypt and the Holy Land," with art history scholar Dr. Robert Grant Irving, (Yale '78), Wednesday, April 24, at 5:30 p.m.;;

If you go

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, 170 Whitney Ave., New Haven. "Echoes of Egypt" will be on view April 13 through Jan. 4. Hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $9, $5 for 3-18 years of age; $8 for senior citizens. The museum is free for all visitors Thursdays 2 to 5 p.m., through May. 203-432-5050;


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