‘Echoes of Egypt’ reveals ancient culture’s impact across the millennia

The abiding influence of ancient Egypt on the world’s cultures is explored in the newest exhibition at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

“Echoes of Egypt: Conjuring the Land of the Pharaohs” takes visitors on a journey through the millennia from ancient Egypt to its echoes in later civilizations around the world.

“For thousands of years and across thousands of miles, ancient Egypt has echoed around the world as cultures from ancient Africa and across the Mediterranean, to medieval Europe and the Middle East, to modern North America have adopted and adapted the style, symbolism, and ideas of ancient Egypt, the land of the pharaohs,” write the exhibit organizers.

“In art, architecture, and literature, the ancient Egyptian world has been reimagined in later cultures through objects created thousands of years apart — a testament to the powerful fascination the civilization inspired,” they add.

The exhibition is curated by Colleen Manassa, the William K. and Marilyn M. Simpson Associate Professor of Egyptology in Yale’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Manassa, who also edited the exhibition catalogue, describes it as “one of the most diverse collections of ancient Egyptian-influenced objects ever assembled.” The exhibit incorporates her own research, which focuses on the history, literature, and language of ancient Egypt. An author or co-author of five books and over two dozen articles, she directs an on-going archaeological expedition in Egypt, the Moalla Survey Project.

Visitors enter the exhibit through a scaled-down reproduction of the Egyptianizing gateway, or pylon, that is the entrance to New Haven’s Grove Street Cemetery. Designed by Henry Austin in 1839, the structure mirrors monuments would have been found in the ancient Nile Valley, but was constructed in New Haven in 1848.

A centerpiece of the exhibition is a diorama showing a scene from a 19th-century “mummy unwrapping” event in Philadelphia, complete with a mummy from the Barnum Museum and an invitation to the event from the American Antiquarian Society. Mummies in the exhibition are treated not as oddities but examples of the Egyptian fascination with regeneration through decay. Additional highlights include a display on the meaning and changing uses of hieroglyphs, and another on Egyptosophy, the embracing of the magical and religious symbolism of ancient Egypt by later cultures.

Also featured are artifacts from collections at Yale and around the country. These include a unique copy of a medieval Arabic attempt to translate hieroglyphs on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, never before seen in the United States.

Small “magical gems” from the Yale Babylonian Collection appear alongside papyri and antique books from the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Ancient Egyptian objects from the Yale Peabody Museum and Yale University Art Gallery illustrate paintings and books from the Yale Center for British Art and Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library.

Other objects and paintings are on loan from the Crocker Art Museum, the Dahesh Museum of Art, the Henry Art Gallery Collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum. Previously unexplored aspects of Egyptian revival include objects from the ancient Sudan made in Egyptian style and a 13th-century Italian sphinx that has been reproduced using cutting-edge 3D printing technology.

The exhibit is on view through Jan. 4, 2014. The exhibition is thoroughly documented in a web component:  http://echoesofegypt.peabody.yale.edu that features most of the objects on view along with descriptive text. There is also a driving tour of important architectural works in Connecticut.

Connecticut Humanities is the presenting sponsor for the exhibition. Additional support was provided by AT&T Foundation, Jenefer and Frank Berall, Alison and John Flynn, Shafik Gabr, Renee and Robert Leary, Daniel Strickler, the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 O.C. Marsh Fellows, Webster Bank and Anonymous. Funding was provided in part by a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant to the Council on Middle East Studies at the MacMillan Center, Yale University.

Programs being held in conjunction with the exhibit include: “Coptic Fabrics and the Fauves,” a talk by Nancy Arthur Hoskins, independent textile scholar, on Monday, April 15 at 5:30 p.m.; and

“David Roberts: A Victorian Artist Footloose in Egypt and the Holy Land,” a talk by Robert Grant Irving ’78 Ph.D. on Wednesday, April 24 at 5:30 pm

For information about hours and admission, visit the Yale Peabody Museum website.

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Media Contact

Melanie Brigockas: melanie.brigockas@yale.edu, 203-432-5099