Sarcophaghi, Under the Stars of Nut
What: Museum exhibit on Egyptian funerary practices
Where: Ciquantenaire Museum, Etterbeek, Belgium
As the title already suggests, Sarcophagi, Under the Stars of Nut, focuses on burial rites and graves in Ancient Egypt, covering early Egyptian civilization the Romans heralding the end of the pharaoh’s in Egypt.
The Cinquantenaire Museum does a great job setting up a lovely exhibit, chronologically and clearly presenting not just sarcophagi, mummies (both human and animal), ushabti (little statues representing the workforce for the deceased) and other funerary objects such as death masks throughout 12 rooms, each representing an hour of night through which Osiris moves through the underworld so the sun may rise again. Whilst this is great in itself, and even though they do their best to provide information about the objects on display, there is no mention what so ever about the cultural and mythological significance of these 12 hours of night, and Osiris’ fight with Seth. Obviously the museum has to cater to the wider public interest, but still, it’s too bad that they focused so much on mainstream instead of delivering what the exhibit seemed to promise on first glance.
That aside, it really is a beautiful and varied exhibit, very well set up, making you stop in surprise at beautiful pieces that literally await around several corners.
They even did the effort of including enlarged (poster sized) monochrome medium format photos from the early 1900s to the 1960s of how Egyptian archaeological sites looked in those days, when archaeology often resembled sanctioned tomb raiding for both museums and well-off collectors.
This made that the exhibit kept surprising throughout the entirety of it, it was set up in such a way that you could move easily throughout even if it’s crowded, and everything is set up in a way where it is easy to admire from nearly every angle (top could be a bit challenging, especially for children). As far as the visual design and set-up are concerned, the Cinquantenaire really outdid itself as the presentation is pretty flawless.
The only remark that can be made is language. Belgium officially has three national languages: Dutch, French and German, but German was entirely absent. And whilst the website and most promotional materials cover English, not all texts were available in English. We didn’t have an audio guide, so maybe those are available in English, but that’s not something that we can confirm at this point. So if you are an English speaker, make sure to check that before you buy your ticket!
And of course, they saved one of the most amazing parts for last: the live restoration lab (set up in a special see-through chamber of course) of the Instituto Europeo del Restauro work on the restoration of 10 sarcophagi and mummy planks from the Second Cache of Deir el-Bahari that are part of the collections of the Cinquantenaire Museum.
Basically, if you are interested in the funerary culture of ancient Egypt through the ages, this exhibition is something you should definitely check out if you can. Especially considering as the majority of pieces on display have not been showed to the public before, giving you an exclusive view on several pieces of the Egyptian past.
Well worth the visit, although seeing you need several hours to see all of it, it’s best to visit it early in the day (the museum has a restaurant so you won’t starve, just make sure to eat there before 3.30pm as they will only serve drinks and dessert from that point onwards) so you can enjoy the other collections and the Djehutihotep exhibition as well, because they are also more than worth it!
Sarcophagi is on ‘till April 20th 2016.
For ticket prices and further information, check the website.
For more photos of the exhibit, check this link.