My first time to the Peabody Musuem, and who can ignore the dinosaurs?
But I was there for a curator walk-through of Echoes of Egypt, or to translate, how Egyptian art and iconography has lived, resurfaced, and been appropriated through the ages.
Now I know that you have that same burning question I did. How do you know which direction to read those hieroglyphics. Is it left to right? Right to left? Or in columns? Yes.
Okay, so here’s how you know which direction to read. You find the bird figure and read toward the face/beak of the bird.
Got it? So read away!
On to deathly serious matters. Why Egyptian in New Haven? Well, the Egyptian Revival from the mid-1800s was a huge hit here. Henry Adams designed these gorgeous gates in the 1840s as the entry to the Grove Street Cemetery, featuring the graves of notables like Noah Webster and Eli Whitney. The attraction to Egyptian was that it predated Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha, so was inclusive. Anyone could be buried beyond these gates.
Even today, the Egyptian motif is popular for headstones.
I loved the sphinx from the exhibit, from Medieval Italy in the 1200s.
Remarkably, the sphinx was recreated by its host museum Viterbo, Museo Civico and Yale architecture students into the reproduction you see here. Something like 3D laser images produced in marble parts that were assembled into the whole. Modern technology can be awesome, and a bit unimaginable, can’t it?
Since I’m interested in all things American, I was fascinated by the mummy un-wrappings that became the pop culture hits in Boston in 1850 and Philadelphia, which admittedly has a long history of passion for oddities, in 1851. For $5, you could attend three evenings worth of lectures and mummy un-wrappings, conducted by the Brit George Glidden.
When Gidden un-wrapped a female mummy, or so s/he was advertised, he was a bit embarrassed to discover a contrary appendage. Whoops. He misread the hieroglyphics. Fortunately, that will now never happen to you! On display, is a female figure and a male coffin, since apparently the parts were mixed and matched when sold. Mrs. Barnum bought these for P.T., and my guess is they didn’t care one bit.
Violet Oakley was an American illustrator and part of a group of women artists known as the Red Rose Girls. In the late 1800s, they lived together, perhaps in a Boston marriage arrangement, in a house called the Red Rose and worked professionally as illustrators. Oakley made a career illustrating children’s books, but I was really taken with the above image, a study for an altarpiece called The Life of Moses. She is connecting Moses to his Egyptianness, but there’s also a strong Madonna and child motif, as well as PreRaphaelite influence working here. It’s an arresting, odd piece of androgyny.
The exhibit is filled with objects that approach the beauty of the ancient, as well as the real thing, like this gilded mummy mask.
You may want to join me in becoming an Egyptosophist, invested in the magic and mystery of all things Egyptian!