'Queen Nefertari's Egypt'
As the story goes, Pharaoh Ramesses II, ruler of Egypt for 66 years in the 13th century and considered the most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, had several wives.
But, he seemingly had a favorite, and it was Queen Nefertari, known as the Great Royal Wife. Ramesses II himself called her "The One for Whom the Sun Shines."
Portland Art Museum brings Nefertari to life with the exhibit "Queen Nefertari's Egypt," which celebrates the role of women — goddesses, queens and commoners — and offers glimpses into royal life and everyday life of artisans through more than 220 works of art, courtesy of Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy, home to the unearthed treasure from palaces, tombs and Queen Nefertari's burial chamber.
It opens Saturday, Oct. 16 and shows through Jan. 16, 2022.
Women in Ancient Egypt were active participants in most aspects of society, from the fields to the courtroom to temples and palaces. Nefertari was highly regarded and educated and, because she could read and write hieroglyphs, she aided the pharaoh in his diplomatic work.
"She had a special place in his life and society and culture," said Brian Ferriso, Portland Art Museum director and chief curator.
From the museum publicity:
"A colossal temple was built in Nefertari's honor at Abu Simbel, and her tomb in the Valley of the Queens, which was re-discovered by Italian archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1904, is known for its vivid artistry.
"Sometimes called 'the Sistine Chapel of Egypt,' Nefertari's tomb is the most richly decorated in the Valley of the Queens, with brilliantly painted scenes featuring gods and winged goddesses, animals, insects and hieroglyphs illustrating the intricate process of passing through the underworld to eternal life."
The exhibit includes personal objects from Nefertari's tomb and an array of objects from royal and daily life in Egypt during the 19th Dynasty of the New Kingdom (1292-1189 BC), including majestic sculptures, intricately painted sarcophagi, jewelry and perfume and cosmetics jars, as well as fragments of Nefertari's massive pink granite sarcophagus lid, wooden "shabtis" (small figures that performed labor in the afterlife) and a gold and faience amulet in the shape of a "djed" pillar (symbol of stablility).
There are 8-foot-tall stone sculptures that dominate the room, and things as small as a pair of sandals (U.S. women's size 9) and makeup.
"The sun was so intense, makeup around eyes was not only for adornment but for shade of brightness," Ferriso said. "You have domestic things that helped the adornment of the body, and part of it was for protection. The drawings show her well taken care of."
Also from the museum's publicity:
"The exhibit explores women's roles in religion, life in the women's royal household and their beauty and adornment rituals. Musical instruments, bronze mirrors, boxes and jars for cosmetic powders and ointments and precious jewelry offer a glimpse of women's life and notions of beautification.
"Visitors also will discover the village Deir el-Medina, where artisans lived and worked, creating elaborate tombs and necessary materials for the afterlife. 'Queen Nefertari's Egypt' includes household items, tools such as brushes and draftsmen's sticks, pickaxes and chisels, ostraca (limestone or pottery sketchpads of ancient Egyptian scribes and artists) and funerary votive statues that provide a sense of the way people lived, worked and practiced religion more than 3,000 years ago."
Portland Art Museum has been working on attracting "Queen Nefertari's Egypt" for many years, Ferriso said.
"It's one of the greatest collections of Egyptian art outside of Egypt," he said. "Going back 100-plus years, there's this idea of 'partage' (from French word 'partager,' or 'to share') and countries collaborating with Egypt for exploration, excavation, research and sharing."
It's important to view Nefertari and her role, as well as Ancient Egypt, in the context of today, Ferriso said.
"Looking at Egyptians through the lens of a woman and a queen is important and significant, and certainly timely as we think about the world today," Ferriso said.
"It's such an important moment in time, as we move though these spaces and get a sense of place in the world. We're struggling to get through the pandemic, social unrest (and) climate change, and it's really important to realize the cultures and people and ties we have to places in time. We have this shared humanity and we need to be reflective. I find it comforting, humbling and confirming the importance of our humanity, to think about shared humanity."
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