Egyptian Renaissance

8 August 2008 – 7 December 2008

8 August 2008 - 8 September 2008

The culture of Pharaonic Egypt was characterised throughout by a reverence for the past living on in myths and history, the preservation of the glorious achievements of the past, as well as the conscious and selective use of these achievements. A kind of "renaissance" attitude is thus deeply rooted in the 3,000-year-long history of ancient Egypt. The title of the exhibition denotes a brief yet all the more exciting period of the middle of the first millennium B.C. (7th-6th century B.C./25th and 26th dynasties), which was a new – and the last – golden age that followed some 400 years of political and economic hardship after the end of the New Kingdom. Research dates the beginning of this new era from the rule of the 25th Dynasty, originating from Nubia (modern day Sudan, the territory of ancient Kush), which conquered and united Egypt at the end of the 8th century B.C., and made the ancient capital Memphis its seat. The power of the pharaohs in this era was clearly legitimised by their identification with the past, thus increasingly archaising trends can be seen in many areas of culture at this time.

Egyptian RenaissanceThe era of the 25th Dynasty is the first great period in the Egyptian "renaissance" and is evocative of the style and iconography of the works dating from the Old Kingdom that predated it by almost two thousand years. Kushite kings adopted the names of the great pharaohs of the 5th and 6th dynasties who ruled in the Old Kingdom. They also tried to revive and recreate the ancient myths, artistic styles, the language and the literature of that period. This process of resurrecting the past had actually started in the previous, Third Intermediate Period and continuously developed during the 25th Dynasty, reaching its peak of perfection during the 26th Dynasty, when the rulers originating from the city of Sais in the Nile Delta strengthened Egypt with the help of the military and increased its commercial importance. The Sais Dynasty revered the memory of their forebears and the previous Kushite period was actually the starting point of the "Sais renaissance". However, the new rulers revived the Theban art of the Middle and New kingdoms.

The thousands of years of continuity spanning ancient Egyptian culture is best demonstrated by the long succession of dynasties. The scientifically most valuable artefact displayed at the exhibition is the more than 4.5- thousand-year-old Palermo Stone, which dates from the era of the pyramid building pharaohs and lists the names and deeds of the earliest kings. The portraits depicting the rulers from the Middle Kingdom (first third of the 2nd millennium B.C.) to the Ptolemaic Period (332-31 B.C.) symbolise the successive dynasties and the sustained pharaonic institution that provided the political, economic and ideological background to enable the continuity of cultural traditions in the ancient Nile Valley. The exhibited reliefs, stelae and statues dating from different periods well illustrate that the artistic canon that emerged out of the court and elite culture of the early pharaonic period continued for thousands of years. This not only signified the preservation of traditions but a reverence for the past too. Looking back into the past was a ritual and an act inherent with magical power for the future generations, enabling them to spiritually identify with historical times and persons they revered as models to follow.

Outstanding artefacts on display at the exhibition are the almost life-size statue of Ramses II, on loan from the British Museum, a pharaonic portrait dating from the 18th Dynasty, lent from the Sinopoli Collection in Rome, a pharaoh's portrait from the 30th Dynasty or the early Ptolemaic Period, on loan from the British Museum, the statues depicting married couples, borrowed from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Louvre in Paris, as well as a sculptor's mould depicting a queen or deity, also on loan from the Parisian collection. One of the most exhilarating group of finds includes the tombs and cosmetic accessories of an elegant lady (the wet nurse of the pharaoh's daughter) who lived during the 25th Dynasty.

Egyptian RenaissanceAnother significant item at the exhibition is the bronze statue of Imhotep dating from the 26th Dynasty from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, which houses one of the richest collections of Egyptian material in Central Europe. The statue is of outstanding quality on a world scale and was one of the highlighted artefacts at the previous exhibition venue, in Ljubljana. Artefacts linked with Egyptian cults and dating from the Roman Period of Pannonia (a "unique jug" preserved in the National Museum in Budapest, and the fascinating finds of the Iseum dating from the Roman Period, borrowed from the Savaria Museum in Szombathely) form the exhibition's last section showing the "renaissance of the renaissance", when ancient Egyptian culture exerted its influence across its borders, as it continues to do up to the present day.

Tickets are available for advance purchase through the Jegymester online shop.

The main sponsor of the exhibition is OTP Travel. The exhibition was curated by Egyptologist Francesco Tiradritti, the director of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Cairo, and Éva Liptay, the head of the Egyptian Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts.

For more information about the events of the Renaissance Year 2008 visit www.reneszanszev2008.hu.