At the heart of the exhibition is Queen Nefertari, who was renowned for her beauty and prominence, the museum said in a news release.
“Ancient Egypt has long fascinated the modern world,” said Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, “and we are thrilled to present this remarkable exhibition that is altogether alluring, grand, exotic and captivating. We are especially grateful to the Museo Egizio for lending us this extraordinary collection of objects.”
Called “the one for whom the sun shines,” Nefertari and other women of ancient Egypt are brought to life through 230 objects from temples, tombs, palaces and the artisan village of Deir el-Medina, presenting the richness of Egyptian culture some 3,000 years ago.
Drawn from the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy, one of the most important and extensive collections of ancient Egyptian works in the world, these exceptional objects highlight the role of women – goddesses, queens and artisans – in Egypt’s New Kingdom period (c. 1539–1075 B.C.).
Visitors can expect to see majestic statues, exquisite jewelry, decorated vases, papyrus manuscripts, carved steles, splendid stone sarcophagi and intricately painted wooden coffins, as well as tools and items of daily life from the craftsmen who built the royal tombs.
Nefertari is one of the most celebrated queens of ancient Egypt alongside Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra.
She was the Great Royal Wife, the favorite of pharaoh Ramesses II, who reigned from 1279 to 1213 B.C., and was the builder of grand monuments, vast tombs and monumental temples.
Although few details are known about Nefertari, archaeological records show she was highly regarded and educated and could read and write hieroglyphs. Using these skills, she aided the pharaoh in his diplomatic work, the Kimbell said.
Until the early 1900s, Nefertari was known only through a few finds, such as sculptures, tomb paintings and hieroglyphs related to Ramesses II.
In 1904, Italian archaeologist and then director of the Museo Egizio, Ernesto Schiaparelli, uncovered Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens, located near the ancient capital of Thebes.
When the tomb was opened, he discovered brilliantly painted scenes depicting the perilous and challenging journey Nefertari had to make to appease the gods on her path to immortality.
While the tomb itself proved to be extraordinary, robbers had looted nearly all of its contents soon after it was sealed. The objects that were recovered, however, hint at what must have been a magnificent treasure trove of furniture, precious oils and other provisions for the afterlife.
Objects found inside the tomb, presumed to belong to Queen Nefertari, are included in the exhibition.
In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh served as the empire’s spiritual, judicial and political leader. While living, he was considered the incarnation of Horus, son of the sun god Ra, temporarily living among mortals. Death would transform the pharaoh into a full god, Ra, but while on Earth, the pharaoh was charged with maintaining justice, truth, order and cosmic balance.
The exhibition opens with a monumental granite sculpture of Nefertari’s husband, the great pharaoh Ramesses II, seated between the sun god Amun and his wife, the goddess Mut – the two patron deities of Thebes.
One of the most frightening Egyptian deities was the lion-headed Sekhmet, goddess of divine wrath. During the reign of Amenhotep III (c. 1390–1353 B.C.), hundreds of statues depicting Sekhmet were produced, including four imposing sculptures displayed in the exhibition. Worshippers made offerings to Sekhmet daily to ask for her protection and ensure she remained in her gentle, domesticated form: the cat goddess, Bastet.
Although temple ceremonies were traditionally carried out by men, women also served the gods. Egypt’s queens played an important role in religious processions and celebrations, representing the female aspect of the divine on Earth, the museum said in the news release.
Women were active participants in all spheres of ancient Egyptian society, from the fields and the courtroom to temples and palaces.
Men and women were treated as equals in the eyes of the law. All women had the right to own property, run businesses and bring cases before the courts. Despite their unusual legal equality, women were primarily tasked with raising children and running the household.
The exhibition explores women’s roles in religion, life in the palace 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.
Built by the artisans from Deir el-Medina, Nefertari’s tomb was constructed around 1250 B.C. and consists of two parts – the upper antechambers and the lower burial chamber, connected by descending staircases. The structure evoked a convoluted path that the deceased had to follow to reach the afterlife.
Sometimes called “the Sistine Chapel of Egypt,” the tomb’s elaborately painted walls feature Nefertari and an array of gods and goddesses, animals and insects and hieroglyphic magic spells, illustrating the intricate process of passing through the underworld to eternal life.
A historic wooden model, complete with paintings to scale, was built following the discovery of the tomb in the Valley of the Queens and provides context for the objects on display. The model, which is on view in the exhibition, was so accurate that it helped in the conservation of the tomb in the 1980s.
“I hope visitors will appreciate the high level of artisanship in these works,” said Jennifer Casler Price, curator of Asian, African and Ancient American art, “whether it is a majestic carved stone sculpture, an exquisite piece of jewelry, a precious perfume jar, a beautifully painted piece of domestic pottery, a humble painter’s brush, delicately painted papyri, intricately painted coffins or even a queen’s pair of unassuming palm sandals.”
During its nearly 50-year history, the Kimbell Art Museum has presented several significant exhibitions of Egyptian art, including Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep II and His World (1992), Gifts of the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Faience (1998), Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt (2002) and Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (2006), which focused on one of the most enigmatic rulers in Egyptian history. Among the Kimbell’s collection are three superb examples of ancient Egyptian statuary, including Portrait Statue of Amenhotep II, which was recarved for Ramesses II, Nefertari’s husband, around 1250 B.C. and acquired in 1982.
Queen Nefertari’s Egypt adds an exciting new show to the Kimbell’s special exhibition repertoire and casts light on royal life in the palace, the roles of women in ancient Egypt, the everyday life of artisans and the powerful belief system and ritual practices around death and the afterlife.
“I hope that these incredible objects give our visitors a sense of stepping back in time and into the footsteps of ancient Egyptians, both royal and commoner,” Casler Price said. “We’re thrilled to bring the best of ancient Egypt back to Fort Worth.”
Kimbell Art Museum
Queen Nefertari’s Egypt
Dec. 6, 2020-March 14, 2021
Subject to change
Admission to Queen Nefertari’s Egypt is $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, $14 for ages 6–11, and free for children under 6.
Admission is half-price all day on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays.
Admission is always FREE to view the museum’s permanent collection.
The exhibition is organized by the Museo Egizio, Turin, and StArt, in collaboration with the Kimbell Art Museum. It is supported by the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Fort Worth Tourism Public Improvement District and the Consolato Generale D’Italia Houston. Promotional support is provided by American Airlines, NBC 5 and PaperCity.
The organizing curator at the Kimbell Art Museum is Jennifer Casler Price, curator of Asian, African and Ancient American art.