Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cairo - revelations in the Egyptian Museum

I arrived in Cairo yesterday and pretty much crashed at the hotel, sleeping much of the day then getting a bite to eat at the mall next door. I guess I was more tired than I realized. Anyhow, after sleeping all day, then eating, then sleeping all night I managed to lift myself out of bed this morning and have a huge breakfast, intended to keep me going all day. It worked.

I spent most of the day at the famous Egyptian antiquities museum just off Tahrir Square. After about 5.5 hours of non-stop walking through the museum I managed to scratch the surface.

It is an awe-inspiring experience. It is vast, endless. The power and living spirit in the art defies words. These people, who had an apparent obsession with life after death managed to leave an artistic legacy that conveys their individual spirits down to the present day, 5000 years later.
 I just hope we can do them justice and preserve this work well enough that it will be there another 5000 years from now, to reveal to the people of that future time the potential of our species.
 Photography is not allowed inside the museum. So I've taken photos of the photos in my guide book for posting here. I'm probably breaking copyright laws. But hopefully this will inspire a few more people to go to the Museum and have this amazing experience.

The picture above is an unfinished portrait of Queen Nefertiti. A very similar one, finished, can be seen in the Egyptian collection in Berlin. It is most definitely the same face. People mistakenly characterize Egyptian art as "stylized" or idealized. But this is not the case with the real portraits, such as in the photos above, or the last photo in the post.

Even the animals have specific and unique expressions. I was stunned to see that the lion heads on the funerary bed of King Tutankhamun had expressions of grief and eyes that looked to the horizon, while the lion heads on his throne stared fixedly ahead with expressions of power and strength.
 The photo above is from the Tutankhamun collection. She is one of four goddesses who protect the shrine that held his canopic jars. These four figures must be seen in person. Photos do them no justice. They are among the most beautiful sculptures of the female ever conceived. Radiant, their very human curves seem delicately wrapped in fine gold linen while their faces and and gestures express love and protection.
 The museum building itself is quite a delight, designed by a French architect, Marcel Dourgnon, in the Beaux Arts style. It opened in 1902. The scale of it allows entire architectural ensembles and monumental sculptures to be housed within. The sculpture in the photo above was at least 30 feet tall.
The museum contains more than just sculptures. There are endless rooms filled with all the miscellany of everyday life, sandles, linen shawls, jewelry, tools... 

I hope some of you who read this will go there and experience it for yourself. For me it was a revelation. In a glass case was a necklace made of semi-precious stones and gold beads. The gold beads were shaped in the form of pumpkin seeds. Next to this necklace was a silver cup in the form of a pomegranate. I looked at these exquisite reproductions of nature in precious metals and suddenly felt I understood something about what they were trying to do. All of matter, in all its seemingly infinite forms, is comprised of just a few basic elements. But somehow, there is an ordering force that brings these elements together in varying forms with varying qualities. The pumpkin seed, containing within itself the ability to reproduce, to nourish and to create dozens more new seeds ... the pomegranate filled with sweet juice and yet again the seeds of its own reproduction ...  What is the mysterious force that orders the same basic elements into a myriad of forms, each with its own qualities, the pumpkin seed, the pomegranate, Horus the hawk, Anubis the jackal, Bastet the cat? If we could somehow reproduce the forms, would we perhaps be able to capture inside those forms the essential ordering nature? Would we be able to bring that ordering force to work in our own lives?


  1. Antonio,
    Your elegant writing coupled with these lovely photos is a quite a combination. Thank you for taking the time to write, in spite of your exhaustion.

  2. I will echo Sony's comment and say that you write elegantly and insightfully. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us. I am so glad you got to see these incredible ancient treasures, with their glimpse into our very humanity.

  3. I really enjoyed the narration and pics Antonio, thanks much for sharing!

  4. I echo Sony's words. Thank you for this beautifully written and insightful post. I'm so glad you have been able to see the Pyramids and all this beautiful ancient art, which connects us back through thousands of years to our common shared humanity.