MHC Art Museum to Host Egyptian Exhibition February 17 - July 22

Posted: January 8, 2007

Updated: March 2, 2007, Distaff Discoveries: Women in Early Egyptology Audio/Podcast

Putting it Together, "Excavating Eqypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum of Eqyptian Archaeology" (QuickTime Video)

It's an exhibition with all the trappings of an historical novel. The dogged archaeologist. The lady adventurer. A dazzling collection of clues to a lost age.

While touring Egypt in the late nineteenth century, the popular writer Amelia Edwards (1831-1891) was horrified by the neglect and damage she observed at ancient Egyptian monuments and archaeological sites. Upon returning to her native England, Edwards founded the Egypt Exploration Fund to promote more carefully managed excavations.

Enter Sir William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), renowned for his scientific techniques, extensive experience, and scholarly work in the field of Egyptian archaeology. Petrie was among the first to map his sites in systematic fashion, documenting the exact location of toys, papri, utensils, furniture, and the masses of pottery that Petrie recognized as being able to speak in places where the written record went silent. "We can't overstate Petrie's importance to the field," said Dr. Peter Lacovara, curator at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University. "He took what had been a glorified treasure hunt and lent the ethics, protocol, and hard science that today define archaeology."

Amelia Edwards became a devoted patron to Petrie, who acknowledged Edwards' support by sending her many beautiful antiquities, including jewelry, scarabs, statuary, funerary tablets, pottery, and writings on linen and papyrus. Upon her death, Edwards bequeathed these gifts and her fortune to the University College London (the only English university then offering degrees to women) to establish the United Kingdom's first professorial chair in Egyptology. In 1892, Petrie assumed the chairship and responsibility for what would become the Petrie Museum. Painted DyadTwo decades and many dozens of excavations later, Petrie sold his own extensive collection to UCL, creating one of the largest and most important collections of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt, and sealing Petrie's reputation as the "father" of Egyptology. (Photo: Late Dynasty 18, Painted Dyad, limestone, pigment, 1352-1292 BC Courtesy of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London)

Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology traces the development of Egyptian archaeology from its beginnings in the 1880s to the present day through spectacular artwork and rare archival materials amassed by the Petrie Museum and its namesake. On view are over 220 of the Petrie's most important objects from sites in the Nile River valley, including one of the world's earliest surviving dresses (circa 2400 BCE), royal art from the palace-city of the "heretic pharaoh" Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, a gold mummy mask, jewelry, stone sculpture, and objects of daily life ranging from copper tweezers to a ceramic rat trap.

The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum will be the only New England venue for Excavating Egypt, which was organized by the Carlos Museum. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions by Lacovara; Betsy Teasley Trope, former Carlos Museum associate curator of ancient art; and Stephen Quirke, Petrie Museum curator.

Thanks to preexisting ties to Amelia Edwards and her Egypt Exploration Fund, the Art Museum has in its permanent collection a number of Petrie-derived antiquities. Like other college museums with a subscription to the fund in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mount Holyoke received numerous objects (with the approval of Egyptian authorities) from excavations by Petrie and his associates. Through the fund and through gifts from another subscription, Mount Holyoke acquired approximately 150 small objects, including jewelry, pottery, funerary figurines, and other items. A selection of these has now been organized into a special companion show to Excavating Egypt.


Thursday, February 22, 4:30 p.m.
"Excavating Egypt"
Louise R. Weiser Lecture
Peter Lacovara, Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta
Gamble Auditorium, Mount Holyoke College

Thursday, March 1, 4:30 p.m.
"Distaff Discoveries: Women in Early Egyptology"
Catharine Roehrig, Curator, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Gamble Auditorium, Mount Holyoke College

Thursday, March 29, 4:30 p.m.
"Re-Imagining Ancient Egypt" (Galleries Tour)
Diana Wolfe Larkin, Visiting Associate Professor of Art History, Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Thursday, April 12, 4:30 p.m.
"Re-Imagining Ancient Egypt" (Galleries Tour)
Diana Wolfe Larkin, Visiting Associate Professor of Art History, Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Related Links:

Excavating Egypt: A Q&A

Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

By the Numbers: Excavating Egypt