The recently acquired collection from the research of silent film star turned Egyptologist Natacha Rambova will pave the way for new research, John Darnell, Yale professor of Egyptology, said Monday.
More than 40 people gathered in the lecture hall of Sterling Memorial Library to hear Darnell discuss more than 10,000 items that comprise the new Egyptological archive, which includes photos, comparative files, images and diagrams. In his lecture, Darnell explained the meaning of the historical archive, which was donated in 2007 by Edward Ochsenschlageron behalf of New York University professor Donald Hansen. The documents are miniature depictions of the upper world, lower world and the cosmic cycle, Darnell said.
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These collections will, for the first time, publicize the impressive work Rambova conducted in her career, Colleen Manassa, an assistant professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, said.
“Natasha Rambova, in addition to being a set designer, dancer, was also a photographer and a scholar in Egyptology and her work specifically focused on symbolism and theology,” Manassa said. “Although a lot of Egyptologists look at her work, it is underappreciated and we are trying to bring her work to the forefront.”
The collection of documents, which displays Rambova’s innovative approach, provides a framework to do new research, Darnell said. He said he also hopes this new acquisition will lead to further investigations of religious and netherworldly topics in Egyptology.
“It definitely gave me an impetus to focus more on religious imagery between 1000 and 500 BC,” Darnell said.
Darnell said that, contrary to popular belief, there is much more to be discovered in Egyptology. He said he hopes to publish a book that combines Rambova’s interpretation of mythological papyri with his own research.
When asked about how this collection will contribute to Yale’s standing as a research center for Egyptology, Darnell said he was enthusiastic.
“Yale provides a lot of funding, such as the Simpson endowment,” he said. “It is one of the major centers for Egyptology, especially for undergraduate majors.”
While many audience members were graduate and post-doctoral Egyptology students, there were at least a dozen others who were simply intrigued by the field of Egyptology.
Melike Ünal, a Turkish lector in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, came to the lecture without any formal background in Egyptology.
“I came here to learn more,” she said. “The way they interpret papyri is very interesting.”
Alexis Eaton ’11, a student in John Darnell’s class who calls herself “an Egyptology nut,” said she attended the event to learn more about Rambova’s work. Eaton also mentioned she is learning about hieroglyphs.
Christine Lilyquist, the curator of Egyptology at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, first contacted Yale about the gift and helped coordinate the process of transporting it to New Haven.
The catalogue of this new acquisition will soon be posted to the Yale Egyptology Web site.