Friday, 6 July 2018

Gold of the Pharaohs

The Grimaldi Forum’s “Gold of the Pharaohs” exhibition opens tomorrow in Monaco. It provides summer visitors with a dazzling show of the skill of transforming stones and metals into adornments fit for gods. Luxury items for the elite of ancient Egypt are on display, crafted over a period of 2500 years, from the Early Dynastic Period to the Third Intermediate Period (3100-994 BC).

Visitors follow a trail through exhibition rooms, the first of which contains objects that impart a little basic knowledge on the materials and symbols used by ancient Egyptians to craft their jewellery. Much like today, expensive items were worn to signal wealth and power. Precious stones and metals were invested with magical powers, especially gold. Its non-corroding property was believed to preserve the body, which is why it was often used for royal funeral masks and coffins.

Queen Hetepheres’s silver bracelets

The exhibition highlights the work of the goldsmiths through displays of their tools, some of which, like the cute, ibex-shaped weight, are as beautiful as the items destined for their masters. There’s also an animated film, in French, that shines a light on the dark business of tomb robbing. It’s been made for the exhibition based on the confession of a robber, a stonemason called Amenpnufer, and the records of his trial during the reign of Ramses IX. One can’t help but feel sympathy for the poor worker and his colleagues.

From here the trail takes a historical path, starting from the Early Dynastic Period with King Djer’s gold and turquoise serekh bracelet, and moving to the Old Kingdom. During this, the pyramid era, tomb robbing was a common problem, and most of the surviving items are stone figures, whose features betray their African heritage, and who, strangely, all have very large feet. Queen Hetepheres’s silver bracelets and the gold ones of King Sekhemket escaped the grasp of the looters, as did a number of adornments belonging to royal women of the following, Middle Kingdom period.

Psusennes I's golden toes

During the New Kingdom, Egypt extended its dominions and increased its wealth with war booty and taxes. The richly decorated and gilded coffin of Tjuyu, great-grandmother of Tutankhamen is a gorgeous example of the artistry of this period, but the best is yet to come. Passing through a small room that introduces the Third Intermediate Period, the exhibition route brings us to the work of Pierre Montet in recovering the Treasures of Tanis. The French egyptologist made his discoveries around the outbreak and end of the Second World War, and as a result they were largely unknown until a 1987 exhibition in Paris. In the final room is a dazzling display of gold and silver from Montet's excavations. Psusennes I's mummy was found intact, wearing gold toe protectors, artefacts that may be small, but are as exquisite and breathtaking as his gold funeral mask and silver coffin.

The exhibition will appeal to amateur egyptologists, fans of Indiana Jones and aficionados of horror movies featuring mummies and curses. There’s enough gold and jewellery on display to bring gasps of delight from the Principality’s billionaires. It knocks spots off the gaudy jewellery and oversized stones in window-displays around Casino Square.

L'Or des Pharaons is open from 7 July to 9 September at the Grimaldi Forum.

  • tickets 10 euros, reductions for -25 and +65
    open daily, 10:00-20:00
    late opening Thursdays until 22:00

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