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Archaeology: Glories Of Egypt

2 minute read
Michael D. Lemonick

Blame it on the pyramids. Those astonishing works of architecture–and vanity–are so overwhelming that scholars have taken a while to turn to the lesser aesthetic achievements of the Old Kingdom, the 500 glorious years between about 2650 and 2150 B.C. when many of the iconic structures were erected. Until recently, in fact, archaeologists knew little more about this period than Herodotus did.

All that has changed, though, as a spectacular exhibition opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City this week makes clear. “Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids” is the first major show devoted to the Old Kingdom. It features some 250 objects from 32 institutions in 10 countries–including exquisite sculptures, relief paintings, vessels, furniture and jewelry–created for use in the temples and royal tombs surrounding Egypt’s most familiar monuments.

It was during the Old Kingdom that Egypt came of age as a civilization. It was also, says Dorothea Arnold, curator in charge of the Met’s Egyptian department, the time when art began to flourish. “It was invented and stylized then,” she says, “and it stayed that way for 2,000 to 3,000 years. This was a time when the human figure was at the center of art. When people asked, ‘Who are we? What is death?’ These people came to grips with death by cherishing life, by transforming human figures into stone in order to preserve them forever.” The show moves to Toronto in February.

–Reported by Andrea Dorfman/New York

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