‘Pharaoh: King of Egypt’ exhibit explores ancient empire
With over 150 items from the British Museum, this CaixaFòrum exhibit runs until September
In ancient Egypt, there were those who were seen as direct descendants of the gods, the protectors of the order of the universe, Lords of the Two Lands and High Priests of Every Temple: these were the pharaohs. But not everything was as grandiose as legend and history tells, and a new exhibit in Barcelona, put on with the help of the British Museum, aims to show the reality of the royal lineage.
Not just “glamour”
Held at the CaixaFòrum Museum in Barcelona from June 8 to September 16, the exhibit is called ‘Pharaoh: King of Egypt.’ To the tune of 4€, museum-goers gain entry to admire more than 150 pieces – 164, to be exact – from the British Museum, ranging from fine gold jewelry, monumental statues, to carved reliefs from temples. Through them, details like the symbolism on what they wore, the meaning of the religious rituals they performed, and everything down to the administrative organization they were in charge of, will all be uncovered.
“What we really wanted to explore were the different realities of being a pharaoh in ancient Egypt”
Marie Vandenbeusch · exhibit curator
“What we really wanted to explore,” revealed exhibit curator Marie Vandenbeusch, “were the different realities of being a pharaoh in ancient Egypt.” “It’s not only the glamorous ideas, and preconceived ideas” that some might have, she added, saying that the exhibit also wanted to show some of the “challenges” like “ruling a country.” This entailed administrative tasks, with the curator evaluates as probably having been “quite complex” but also the “relationship with the superpowers around Egypt,” explored through “trade, diplomacy, but also, conflicts.”
“Cleopatra is closer to us than she is to the pyramids,” says curator
Known as ‘Lords of the Lands’ and ‘High Priests of Every Temple,’ the pharaohs reigned approximately from 3,100 until the Roman conquest in 30 BC, spanning a huge length of time. “Modern visitors don’t have a grasp on this,” explained exhibit curator Neal Spenser, explaining that “Cleopatra is closer to us than she is to the pyramids.” Meanwhile, ancient Egyptians, as we would today, had a more relative gaze on their past. Indeed, monarchs sometimes sought to manipulate it to their benefit, sometimes even “erasing the legacy of one pharaoh in particular.”
Still, throughout the entire pharaonic era, the exhibition is organized to show the various sides of a pharaoh’s life: the divine dimension, the administrative role, the family life, the military character and, finally, their death. Additionally, it shows how pharaohs constructed their own images of how they wished to be seen, through statues and depictions.
The human face of the gods
Aiming to show “the human face of the gods,” reads the CaixaFòrum website, the exhibit shows that the rulers were thought to be the “direct descendants” of divinities, either as the progeny of the sun god (such as the ‘son of Ra’) or as the “earthly incarnation of Horus.” “As high priests, the pharaohs oversaw the construction of grandiose temples for the celebration of rituals,” the text continues, and when they died, the royal burials in their honor were meant to ensure that they be in turn reborn as the death god Osiris.
This connection to the religious was not a simple one. “We know that the king had to please all the thousands of gods that you have in ancient Egypt,” explained Vandenbeusch. This had to happen in “a lot of different ways,” she detailed, which then led to the construction of “those beautiful temples.”
The Lords of the Two Lands
As well as their connection to the spiritual, the pharaohs were represented as a valiant warrior, a genius of military strategy, an implacable foe to his enemies. Despite the ruler’s reputation, though, the kingdoms suffered various defeats at the hands of the Romans and Nubians, among others. Within Egypt itself, despite their title of ‘Lord of the Two Lands,’ uniting upper and lower Egypt, the rulers were unable to avoid internal tension – some which even became civil wars.
“Yes, wonderful things!”
Conferences and debates include ‘Origins of royalty and the State in Ancient Egypt’ on June 13, ‘Son of a King: Divine Aspects of the Pharaoh’s Power’ on June 20, ‘The Pharaoh, War, and Diplomacy’ on June 27, ‘The Valley of the Kings’ on July 2, ‘Searching for the Pharaohs’ on July 9, ‘Yes, wonderful things!’ on July 10. The last conference alludes to the famous exclamation by 20th century archeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1922, uttered upon discovering the intact tomb of Tutankhamun.