Cleveland Museum of Art hosts pharaoh in new Egyptian exhibit

March 17th, 2016


The Cleveland Museum of Art is celebrating its 100th birthday with some special Egyptian guests: the men and women who ruled the land of the Nile. The museum’s newest exhibit, “Pharaoh: Ancient King of Egypt,” opens this Sunday, March 13 and runs through Sunday, June 12.


The exhibit has been a long time in the making, featuring artwork from ancient Egypt. The organization of the collection itself has taken about two years, a small amount of time in comparison to how old the works of art are, which average to about 3,000 years old.


The exhibition has been made possible due to the collaboration between the Cleveland Museum of Art and the British Museum in London, England. Due to the partnership, the “Pharaoh: Ancient King of Egypt” exhibit features over 157 works.


Almost a dozen of the artworks come from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s permanent Egyptian art collection, while the rest are temporarily on loan from the British Museum. The show is an expanded version of a traveling exhibition organized by the British Museum that toured throughout England and Scotland from 2011 through 2013.


The British Museum is acclaimed as a viable source for these works of art because it acquired all the treasures that French conqueror Napoleon gathered after the British defeated the French occupation of Egypt in 1801.


One of the many masterpieces from the British Museum’s famously expansive collection is the Rosetta Stone, a massive slab of the rock granodiorite that served as a sort of reference for translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Unfortunately, this particular piece of artwork will not be included in the “Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt” exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Works like this were collected early in the 19th century before Britain began regulating the antiquities that were imported into the country.


The primary masterpieces that make up the exhibit can be traced back three millennium, and they span the spectrum of size. Both small-scale jewelry items, such as encrusted brooches, as well as larger items, such as sculptures and massive stone carvings, are included. However, the exhibits main emphasis is on pieces with artistic intentions and not as much on ancient texts.


Egyptologist Aude Semat, the guest curator for “Pharaoh: Ancient King of Egypt,” explained, “Every image is created with a magical reality. They are here not just to look beautiful; they have a purpose… to reveal both the beauty and meaning of ancient Egyptian art.”


Semat describes the exhibit’s general theme as “drawing a contrast between the regal power projected by images of ancient pharaohs and the political reality that they often ruled over territories divided by civil war, or occupied by foreign powers that took on the trappings of Egyptian civilization.”


Semat’s love for Egyptian art can be traced back to 1993 when she saw an Egyptian art exhibit. The exhibit, entitled “Amenhotep III and his world,” was a traveling exhibition put together by the Cleveland Museum of Art to celebrate its 75th anniversary, although Semat had seen the exhibit when it was being displayed at the Grand Palais in Paris when she was on vacation with her mother.


Semat had been deciding with her mother whether they should spend their limited time at the museum checking out the Egyptian exhibit or an exhibit that was being shown simultaneously on the subject of the Renaissance painter Titian. Semat’s mother ultimately decided they should see the show on Amenhotep, due to a shorter admission line.


That fateful choice would have major repercussions for Semat, who is finishing up her doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne, and later for the larger art community who will get to enjoy the results of Semat’s work in curating this collection.


The “Pharaoh: Ancient King of Egypt” exhibit is now open to the public and runs through June 12. Tickets are $15 for adults.


Editor’s Note: Information from, and was used in this report.