The J. Paul Getty Museum opened a groundbreaking exhibition examining the cultural connections between influential ancient Mediterranean civilizations. “Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World” is the first major U.S. exhibit showcasing the artistic influences and interaction between Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It encompasses works from over a span of over two thousand years, from the Bronze Age through Roman times.
“Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World” will be at the Getty Center until Sept. 9, 2018. The exhibit includes nearly 200 objects, many of which are on their first visit to the U.S.
The Getty Museum is known for its large collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. However, this display looks at influences Mediterranean cultures had each other. “The genesis of the idea starts with what we have and don’t have at the Getty Villa,” explained Timothy Potts, the museum director and one of the exhibition curators. He added that this is the first of series of Getty exhibits examining connections between cultures. The major long-term project starts with Egypt because of the obvious connections and influences.
“From trade, exchange, and artistic borrowings to diplomacy, immigration, and warfare, the cultures and histories of these two civilizations were intimately intertwined for millennia,” Potts noted. The monuments and art they produced provide examples of how the cultures influenced each other. For example,Egyptian efforts inspired ancient Greek pottery and sculpture, images of Greeks were found in Egypt, excavations found objects from other areas, and luxury goods made for Italians had Egyptian motifs. “We only assembled pieces that contribute to an account of the interaction during this period,” Potts added.
Seesawing Influences Across the Millenia
The exhibit content begins around 3000 BC when Egypt developed trade contacts with Crete and mainland Greece, It continues through the Roman Empire in 4th century AD. The gallery pieces are divided into four major historical segments:
- The Middle and Late Bronze Ages (about 3000-1100 BC), During this period, Egypt traded with the Mycenaean from the Greek mainland and the Minoans of Crete. Besides diplomatic gifts and trade from the era, the Getty features objects found in Crete that came from Egypt, including a 3,000 BC jar later altered by a Minoan. There are also wall paintings found in Egyptian tombs that depict Cretans.
- The Archaic and Classical Eras (circa 700- 332 BC). The Archaic and Classical periods found Greeks in Egypt as traders and mercenaries, which is observable through cultural changes. Greek sculptors in the 7th and 6th centuries BC began carving the larger-than-life stone human figurines largely associated with Greco-Roman art after seeing monumental sculptures in Egypt. Additionally, small Egyptian objects were imported to Greece and copied. Myths with Egyptian themes appeared on Greek vases found in excavations. The exhibit also includes a massive Egyptian sarcophagus from the period with hieroglyphics that mention the deceased’s parents were Greek.
- The Hellenistic period (332-30 BC). Alexander’s defeat of Egypt in 332 BC put the country under the rule of a Greek dynasty –Ptolemy’s – for 300 years. The Getty exhibition explores the hybrid culture and art of Egypt under those rulers. There are several marble and basanite heads showing the development of royal sculptural portraiture, including sculptures of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony. Many works mix the cultures. For example, a statue of Alexander the Great’s heir, Greek King Philip III, never visited Egypt but is portrayed as a pharaoh.
- Egypt in the Roman Empire (30 BC- 4th century AD). After Cleopatra VII died in 30 BC, Egypt became a province of Rome. The objects displayed illustrate the connections forged in Roman Egypt, as well as Roman fascination with Egyptian imagery. This section includes sculptures that were exported in antiquity to Italy from Egypt, and Egyptian-influenced motifs and objects made in Italy. A basalt bust of a Roman emperor has facial features typical of Roman statues and an Egyptian headdress. In Pompeii and Herculaneum, Egyptian objects were found inside and outside homes. They include statues in private gardens showing Egyptian deities and animals, like hippopotami. Additionally, a granite obelisk carved in 88-89 A.D greets visitors to the Getty in the lobby. It is a Roman piece clearly inspired by Egyptian obelisks and features a hieroglyphic inscription.
The Getty exhibit offers a different look at the artistic and cultural influences shared between Egypt and the classical Greco-Roman world. “Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World” will be at the museum’s hilltop Los Angeles center through Sept. 9, 2018.
By Dyanne Weiss
Exhibit visit March 26, 2018
Getty: Getty Museum Presents Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World
Greek Reporter: Greece Sends 20 Artifacts for Getty Exhibition ‘Egypt-Greece-Rome: Cultures in Contact’ in LA
Photos by Dyanne Weiss of:
- Philip III Arrhidaios, Ptolemaic, 323-317 BC, Granite, from Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, Germany
- Sarcophagus of Wahibreemakhet, 664-525 BC, from National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden Netherlands (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden)
- Hippopotamus, 2nd century, Roman, from Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark