Installation shot, Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photo by Edward Goldman.
With it’s new exhibition Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World, The Getty Museum has pulled off an unprecedented feat. First of all, it is an impressive, in-depth scholarly exploration of the artistic and cultural connections between ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, from the Bronze Age to Roman times (2000 BC – AD 300). This exhibition is also a stunning visual spectacle, seducing visitors from the get-go, with nearly 200 rare objects borrowed from museums around the world; many of them on view in the US for the first time.
Installation shot, Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World. L: Statue of Tjayasetimu. Egyptian. 664-610 BC. R: Kouros. Greek. 520 BC. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photo by Edward Goldman.
At the very beginning of the exhibition, there are two statues of male figures. One, Egyptian, from 7 th Century BC, the other, Greek, from the 6 th Century BC. Here is an iconic manifestation of the influence of the thousand-year- old tradition of monumental Egyptian sculptures on Greek art. The posture of both bodies is very similar, but the Greek Kouros is more realistic in its depiction of the human anatomy, including an irresistible smile.
L: Head of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes (Benefactor) II. 144-116 BC. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. R: Bust of Julius Ceasar. Romano-Egyptian. 30 BC – AD 25. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photos by Edward Goldman.
To quote Jeffrey Spier, The Getty Museum’s Senior Curator of Antiquities, “The overarching goal of this exhibition is for visitors to understand Egypt, Greece, and Rome not as monolithic, separate entities but as cultures that are evolving milieu.” In any other exhibition, the attention-grabbing sculptural portraits of Pharaoh Ptolemy VIII and Julius Caesar would be the stars of the show – but here, they are just two of many impressive players on the stage.
L: Relief with Bes Dancing. Romano-Egyptian. BC-AD 100. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. R: Acrobat on a Crocodile. Roman. 25 BC – AD 100. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photos by Edward Goldman.
And, talking about stealing the show… take a look at this sculptural relief of the dancing and laughing Egyptian god Bes, with a protruding tongue and humongous phallus. Ok - stop giggling. Bes was a protector of women and the household. His appearance in this relief recalls dancing dwarves found in Pompeii.
L: Iris with the Infant Harpokrates. Roman. 100 BC – AD 79. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. R: Emperor Domitian as Pharaoh. Roman. AD 88-89. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photos by Edward Goldman.
I’m definitely planning to visit this exhibition a few more times, and learn more from its extensive catalog. But for now, I just want to talk about some of the fascinating and mysterious objects in the show that completely seduced me. Until I saw the Roman clay sculpture of the Egyptian goddess Iris breast-feeding a child, I thought such imagery of mother and child was introduced by Medieval and Renaissance Italian artists. I was wrong.
L: Head of Caracalla. Romano-Egyptian. AD 211-217. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. R: Detail, Mosaic with a View of the Nile. Roman. 100 BC-AD 100. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photos by Edward Goldman.
An exceptionally well-preserved Roman micro-mosaic with a scene of Romans enjoying life by the Nile River makes you envious of the life of the rich and famous two thousand years ago…
L: Hippopotamus. Roman. AD 1-100. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. R: Cup with Egyptian Scenes. Roman. 25 BC-AD 79. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photos by Edward Goldman.
The beauty and exquisite craftsmanship of many of these objects and their ability to hold our attention over millennia raises the question – how many of today’s artworks will be able to speak to our descendants thousands of years from now?
Conservation work on the wall paintings in the tomb © J. Paul Getty Trust. Image courtesy The Getty Conservation Institute.
Let me finish with yet another story of the love affair between the ancient and contemporary art world. The Getty Conservation Institute announced today that it has nearly completed its nine-year study of King Tut’s tomb, collaborating with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. As a welcome coincidence, last week, the California Science Center opened the traveling exhibition King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh. According to Egyptian authorities, this is the last time that these treasures will be allowed to leave Egypt.