Pharaonic Glories Conquer the City of Light
by Laura Ranieri Roy
Tutankhamun’s treasures may now be grounded for eternity, but the wonders of Egypt are still traveling the world. Now the banner is held not by the boy king, but by Ramses II, the greatest most powerful Pharaoh of all. A show featuring nearly 200 magnificent masterpieces (under his name) is touring the world between 2022 and 2025. Last year it graced the halls of the Houston, Museum of Natural Science and then at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, California.
From April 7th to September 6th, 2023 it is at the Grande Halle of La Villette (an exhibition ground in Paris’s northeast, where we saw it in early May. Even at 9am on a Tuesday morning it was packed to the rafters with people queuing up for each display. The Parisians adore their Egyptian art and are coming out in droves to see this show.
Not just Ramses: a tapestry of Egyptian history
The exhibition encompasses not only the reign of Ramses II but also spans thousands of years of Egyptian history, featuring an array of kings, queens, and nobles from the Middle Kingdom through to the late period. While Ramses II and his 19th Dynasty family undoubtedly provide an abundance of masterworks, visitors will also marvel at the beautiful Middle Kingdom jewelry from Dashur and the exquisite silver-gold treasures from Tanis, the capital of Egypt during the 21st Dynasty.
Multimedia enriches and enlivens the exhibit
Immersive videos and virtual reality experiences breathe life into the exhibition. Visitors are treated to astonishing models and video recreations of the magnificent temples and tombs, allowing them to witness the transformation of historical sites. From the Ramesseum, which springs to life with vibrant colors and torch-lit halls, to the stunning scale model of Abu Simbel, and the captivating videos portraying the tomb of Nefertari, Abydos Seti Temple, and Abu Simbel Temples, spectators are transported back in time. These multimedia presentations showcase the grandeur and splendor of ancient Egypt in a truly captivating manner. There is even a wonderful exhibit bringing alive the battle of Kadesh.
A Loan from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
It is important to note that the showcased pieces are on loan from the prestigious Egyptian Museum in Tahrir, Cairo, which serves as their permanent home. The exhibition is a testament to the collaborative efforts to bring Egypt’s rich heritage to a global audience.
Room upon Room of Increasingly Exquisite Pieces
Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are immersed in the grandeur of Ramses the Great’s reign. The journey begins with a mesmerizing 120-degree curved HD projection screen, which transports viewers through the gates of Abu Simbel while narrating the remarkable life and accomplishments of Ramses the Great. Each exhibition hall thereafter offers a new facet of ancient Egyptian art and culture.
Ramses in the spotlight
The first exhibition hall greets visitors with an obelisk, a composite bow, and a bust of Ramses II, donning the iconic white crown. Further into the exhibition, one encounters a room adorned with exquisite Ramesside pieces. Of particular note is a stunning statue of Ramses in the form of a Sphinx, symbolizing the union of animal power and human intellect. Here, Ramses offers a ram-shaped vessel of holy oil to the god Amun.
Among the standout pieces is a beautiful bust of Ramses as a young man, emanating a warm smile. Adorned with a uraeus, the eye of Horus bracelet, an opulent multi-stringed necklace, and carrying two heqas, symbol of royalty, this portrait captures the essence of a powerful and prosperous young king reigning at the pinnacle of Egypt’s glory.
Another masterpiece from the Ramesside era is a meticulously carved limestone statue depicting Ramses’ beloved mother, Tuya. The intricate details and craftsmanship exemplify the deep reverence and love Ramses held for his family.
Faience tiles from the lost city of Pi-Ramses
While the once-magnificent northern palace of Pi-Ramses may have faded into history, remnants of its grandeur endure in the form of beautiful faience tiles. These tiles offer vivid depictions of Ramses’ conquests and the enemies he vanquished in battles fought far from Egypt’s borders. Each tile tells a story of triumph and showcases the artistic skill of the time. A rekhyt bird, a symbol of the common people; a Nile perch swimming in the river.
Luxurious items of Middle Kingdom Princesses from Dashur
The exhibition expands beyond the realm of Ramses II to highlight the lives of princesses from the Middle Kingdom. These royal daughters, hailing from the reigns of Senwosret III and Amenemhat II, resided in small pyramids that contained treasures befitting their regal status. Among the captivating displays are Hathoric sistrum-based mirrors and exquisite jewelry adorned with carnelian, turquoise, and gold. These artifacts offer a glimpse into the opulence and splendor enjoyed by royal ladies during Egypt’s classical age.
The video recreations of the temples are remarkable, vividly illustrating the temples’ once-blinding colors and magnificence.
Treasures of Tanis
In 1939, French archaeologist Pierre Monet unearthed a breathtaking complex of royal tombs at Tanis, rivaling the opulence of Tutankhamun’s treasures. However, on the eve of World War II, the discovery’s timing prevented it from sparking the same Egyptomania that surrounded Tutankhamun’s tomb less than two decades before.
This traveling exhibition provides a rare opportunity to marvel at the treasures from the 21st Dynasty of Egypt. The magnificent gold masks, solid silver coffins, and spectacular silver and gold artifacts found in Tanis are displayed in all their resplendence. Highlights include the captivating mask of Amenemope and the silver hawk-headed sarcophagus of Shoshenq II. In ancient Egypt, silver held a higher value and rarity than gold, adding to the allure of these remarkable pieces.
Great Sarcophagi – Ramses Legacy
As visitors journey through the exhibition, they are treated to exquisitely crafted displays showcasing the treasures of Tanis and immersive videos that breathe life into ancient temples and tombs. The culmination of this captivating experience awaits in the form of a series of magnificent coffins and sarcophagi from the 19th and 20th dynasties of Egypt. These include the awe-inspiring sarcophagus of Ramses’ son, priest, and successor, Merenptah. These masterpieces of ancient craftsmanship demonstrate the profound reverence and spiritual beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian society.
Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs … is a mesmerizing, transporting, and inspiring exhibition that enchants audiences wherever it travels.
Currently captivating visitors in Paris until September. Its next stop will be the Australian Museum in Sydney, opening in November 2023. This extraordinary showcase of ancient Egyptian art and culture serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of Ramses II and the Pharaohs through the ages, still captivating the hearts and imaginations of people around the world.