Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cleopatra exhibit at The Franklin Institute

On Monday, we completed our Ancient Egyptian studies by visiting the traveling Cleopatra exhibit at The Franklin Institute.  I had missed being a chaperone to the King Tut exhibit while it was there in 2007 so I was happy to finally have the opportunity to view ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The tickets are timed-entry.  We arrived at The Franklin Institute at 10:30am and were given 11am tickets for the exhibit.  If you are familiar with FI, the traveling exhibit space is one floor up from the ticketing level, off the atrium, above the gift shop.  Some special exhibits in the space are open to the atrium but this one is not, presumably to protect the artifacts from light and to preserve the slightly mysterious feel (background music, lighting) in the exhibition galleries.

We each were given a wand-style player for the audio tour (included in price).  A group in line behind us complained that they weren't headsets, but I definitely preferred the wand to a headset.  It was much easier for Daisy to listen to the audio commentary this way than through a headset.

We waited almost half an hour after our entry time.  Ahead of us was a large group of middle-school students.  With their chaperones, they were separated into three different groups to be let into the exhibition.  Our group consisted of Daisy and me, a mom and a 10/11yo boy, a mom and two teens and a lot of senior citizens!

We first entered a small theatre for a four-minute film.  Here's the description from the exhibition website :

Introduction Theater

Leaving the theatre, we walked through a hallway which appeared to be over water, representing the underwater ruins of ancient Alexandria, lost after an earthquake and tsunami "centuries ago." Underneath the clear floor were various artifacts from the 5th century BC such as

The first exhibition gallery featured


Another submerged city discovered near Alexandria, Canopus had a dual personality. It was a religious center as well as a decadent playground for Alexandrians, comparable to modern-day Las Vegas. This gallery focuses on the city's identity as a site of religious pilgrimage. Artifacts include representations of Osiris, god of the Afterlife, and ritual implements used on the boat procession from Canopus to Heracleion that was held annually in his honor. This gallery also contains artifacts that illustrate the indulgent side of Canopus

These artifacts were used in temple rituals

A stone (diorite) head of an unknown Pharoh from the Saite Dynasty (26th Dynasty, 664-525 BC)

We saw real hieroglypics, right in front of us!

A representation of the city of Canopus, based on underwater archeological evidence

Items that would have been used in rituals---the handle-like item is what remains from a musical instrument.  Bells would have been attached at the top.

Statues of Osiris

I was fascinated by the bronze situla, a pot about 18 inches tall and 12 or so inches in diameter.  Near the bottom left side of the handle (at the 10 o'clock position) you can barely make  out a Greek inscription.  The situla is dated from the Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BC).

At various locations in each gallery were audio hotspots.  If you stood on the indicated section, you would hear the audio to go along with video playing on a nearby screen.  People not standing on the hot spot would not hear the audio, but would instead hear their own audio tour narration.

We spent so much time in the first gallery that four more groups emptied out of the theatre before we moved on!

The next gallery was


The most dominant artifacts in this gallery space are two 16-foot tall colossal figures of a Ptolemaic king and queen from the Temple of Amon at Heracleion. Each new pharaoh, including Cleopatra, was crowned in the ancient city of Heracleion. This gallery highlights the city's role as the place Cleopatra and all of Egypt's rulers were invested with the power to rule the empire and its strategic position on the Mediterranean coast, where various war objects on view illustrate how it provided Egypt's main line of defense against foreign invasion.

A picture with Daisy showing the size of the statues!

On the rear size of the collosi was a gigantic chart of
Daisy explained the relationships between  those listed on the bottom two lines---Cleopatra VII's siblings and children---to me and to some older adults.  I was very impressed at the details she remembered from her readings.  Thanks go to the Oxford Press The Ancient Egyptian World and the Cleopatra VII Royal Diaries book :)

A smallish (12-15" in length) Greek sphinx confused some little girls as they were expecting it to be part lion.

Daisy found the various gold coins on display to be quite interesting
The level of detail was amazing!


Visitors journey into the ancient city of Alexandria, where Cleopatra's palace once stood. Featured objects reflect everyday life in Ptolemaic Egypt. Key pieces in this room include a statue of the High Priest of Isis and a sphinx with a head that represents Cleopatra's father, both from her private temple at her palace. Also on view is the massive stone head of Caesarion, Cleopatra's son.

Displayed in the Alexandria gallery were beautiful gold jewelry and trinkets.  These were an example of Egyptian "tryphe" or ostentatious extravagance which was in great contrast to Roman's austerity.

The Beauty and Power of Cleopatra

Here, visitors gaze upon a larger-than-life headless sculpture of a female body, dressed as the goddess Isis that represents a queen from the Ptolemaic period. They also see the only known example of what scientists believe to be Cleopatra's own handwriting on an original papyrus document.

What did Cleopatra look like?  No contemporary portraits survive, though there are official portraits of her on coins.  These are believed to be conventional images of  royalty, not true-to-life images.  On coins, she was not at all attractive!

The lighting in the display case made for a very difficult no flash cell phone picture, but I just had to capture the ancient writing.  Of all things, this document granted tax exemption from sales of imported wine!

Search for the Tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Entering this gallery, visitors are transported to the temple complex at Taposiris Magna, about 30 miles west of Alexandria. Here, Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, is leading a search for the tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. The gallery introduces artifacts recovered from this ongoing search, including an alabaster head believed to represent Cleopatra.

We viewed religious objects, masks, coins showing Cleopatra and jewelry that had belonged to worshippers at the temple complex.  Daisy found it amusing that Dr. Zahi Hawass was featured in this gallery as he had appeared in several National Geographic DVDs used in our Egyptian studies.

The Legend

The final gallery is devoted to images of Cleopatra through the years in art and popular culture. Artists have tried to capture the essence of Cleopatra in a multitude of art forms throughout history, from paintings to films. But so far, the real last queen of Egypt has eluded everyone.

It was interesting to view the various portrayals of Cleopatra through the years.  To the Romans, she was a wanton seductress.  She was always pictured in medieval portraits with snakes, symbolizing Satan.  Renaissance artists showed a pleasure-seeking Cleopatra who ultimately committed suicide with an asp.  During the 1800s, her exotic sexuality was the focus.  Cleopatra was a ruthless aristocrat yet a tragic beauty who was driven to suicide.  By the movie age which coincided with the fight for women's suffrage, Cleopatra was shown as an emancipated modern woman, most possibly the closet portrayal to actual reality.

In conclusion, this special exhibit at The Franklin Institute was well-worth the admission price ($26.50 weekdays for adults, $19.50 for kids 2-11---I had a small value coupon) and the parking garage fee (validated for up to 5 hours $12).  The visit was the perfect capstone to a month spent reading about and discussing ancient Egypt.  

The exhibit will remain at The Franklin Institute through January 2, 2011.  Additional information, including ticket pricing and hours, may be found here.
A four-minute movie opens the exhibition. Visitors are introduced to the parallel stories of Dr. Zahi Hawass and Franck Goddio, who are leading searches for Cleopatra VII from the sands of Egypt to the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

As soon as the movie ends, visitors encounter a statue of a Ptolemaic queen, perhaps Cleopatra. Visitors also begin their audio tour, provided to every guest as part of the exhibition experience and narrated by the "voice of Cleopatra," who leads visitors through her life and times. 

1 comment:

  1. These are amazing pictures esp. the one above Alexandria.