"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tut, Tut

Last week, we braved the weather and the crowds to see the Tut-ankh-amun exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. I was very much looking forward to this, having had an interest in this 'nerdy' sort of stuff since I was a kid in school. Archaeology has always fascinated me, and after a brief childhood period of wanting to be a nurse (whatever possessed me?), my career plans were firmly on the path to archeology, until a history teacher nearly bored me to death. I remember reading about Howard Carter's great discovery, read his correspondence with his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, and wondered about "the curse of the pharaohs"! I quickly got the archaeology bug out of my system, thank goodness, but the interest in Egyptology remained.
Our encounter with the boy king started with a 15-minute 3D movie about mummies, embalming, culture, and religion in 1300 BCE. I'm just a fan of 3D and it ended all too quickly! Then we stood in line for a while to enter the exhibition, with hundreds of others, including school classes. I'd never seen the museum so crowded! They did a good job with crowd control though, and let about 30 people at a time through the doors. Armed with audio equipment, we made our way into the dimly lit space, listening to Omar Sharif's dulcet voice explaining the exhibits. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, but as soon as you walk in, the atmosphere becomes hushed. There's definitely a sense of awe and wonder as you walk around, slowly taking in the statues, jewellery, and artifacts. The craftsmanship is sublime, and I could weep for not being able to take photos. It's amazing how well preserved some of these items are, considering their age (over 3ooo years) and the way archeology was conducted back in the 1930s.
It struck me that the statues all had a timeless look about them, and I wondered, from an artistic point of view, how this was achieved. I noticed that they all looked straight ahead, the head at a 90degree angle. Usually, artists mark eyes with a small white dot, which makes the eye come alive. The eyes on the Egyptian artifacts were black, and had a large iris. The upper 1/3 of the iris was under the eyelid, leaving a small area of white above the lower lid. This makes the statue appear to look above or beyond the viewer, and, apart from their antiquity, appears to give them a timeless look.
Some of the items on display were quite whimsical, such as a beautifully worked dog collar. Obviously, Egyptians loved their dogs. The other items I liked were the little 'tool boxes', that accompanied the pharaoh's shabtis or helpers in the afterlife. There were some magnificent pieces on display, however, I would have loved to see the famous gold and blue mask of Tut-ankh-amun. Alas, it's in New York, so unless I get to the Cairo Museum, I doubt I'll get to see it in real life.
The museum did a great job with this exhibition, and since it's on until October, I might even go see it again.

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