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In the Shadow of the Pyramids – Flinders Petrie exhibition in Copenhagen

By Debbie J Challis, on 18 November 2011

Some readers may remember that I visited Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek at Copenhagen in June to see curator Tine Bagh’s preparation for an exhibition of material excavated by Flinders Petrie. The exhibition opened last week and I asked Jan Picton, Secretary of the Friends, to give me some feedback on the exhibition. Jan writes:

View of the exhibition showing the excavation site showcases.

View of the exhibition showing the excavation site showcases.

“Twenty eager Friends of the Petrie Museum let loose to explore the Egyptian collections of Copenhagen– best not to get in their way! It helps when the Curator of the exhibition ‘In the Shadow of the Pyramids’ at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Tine Bagh, is both a fan of Petrie and a Friend of the Petrie Museum. Tine invited us to the Private View of the exhibition and the Reception in the fabulous Winter Garden and then gave us a guided tour of the exhibition and the collection the following day. She also facilitated our visits to the National Museum and to Thorvaldsen’s Museum. We are very grateful for her kindness when she was so busy with the exhibition.

The Carlsberg Foundation generously supported Petrie’s work in the years immediately before and after the First World War and as a result received objects from sites as diverse as Memphis, Meydum, Hawara, Gerzeh, Shurafa, Tarkhan, Riqqeh and Harageh between 1908-1913, and from Lahun, Sedment and Abydos after the war. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is thus one of those rare museums that can account for the origin of many of the objects in its Egyptian collection.

Detail of the cosmetic spoon.

The first thing you see as you enter the exhibition hall is a huge photograph of Petrie in his later years but we were glad to see alongside that images of Petrie the explorer and a generous (and often overlooked) appreciation of the role that Petrie’s wife Hilda made to his career (we were very grateful for the bilingual labels). The display cases are pylon-shaped and give the effect of passing through an Egyptian temple to the final display – a brightly lit and newly conserved heb-sed festival scene from the Palace of Apries of the 26th Dynasty (ÆIN 1046). The black cases against the cleverly lit displays gives a real sense of drama to the exhibition.

Example of the label showing other finds

Example of the label showing other finds

The strength of the exhibition, apart from the quality of the objects, lies in the meticulous scholarship that uses the exhibition to explore the context of the Carlsberg collection, the present location of excavation sites where they could be traced, the distribution of the excavated material using the Petrie Museum’s archives and other museums’ records and, in some cases, virtually reuniting objects with pieces in other museums. Previously unidentified pieces of painted plaster (ÆIN 1145-46) are now know to have come from the tomb chapel of Atet at Meydum and are displayed alongside drawings of the complete wall. The wonderful cosmetic spoon excavated by Petrie at Sedment (ÆIN 1559) is shown alongside an archive photograph of other finds from Tomb 136 now in the Petrie Museum.

Tine Bagh in the exhibition she has curated.

Accompanying the exhibition is the publication Finds from W.M.F. Petrie’s Excavations in Egypt in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek written by Tine Bagh. This is far more than a catalogue of objects as it examines Petrie’s excavations and demonstrates the riches to be found in excavating the archives, both of the Glyptotek and of the Petrie Museum.”

Jan Picton, Secretary of the Friends of the Petrie Museum.

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