New Egyptology exhibit opens at the Peabody

The Peabody Museum’s “Echoes of Egypt” exhibition, which opened on Saturday, seeks to showcase Yale’s extensive collection.
The Peabody Museum’s “Echoes of Egypt” exhibition, which opened on Saturday, seeks to showcase Yale’s extensive collection. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

On Thursday, the Yale Peabody Museum opened its newest exhibit, Echoes of Egypt.

The exhibit, which opened to the public on Saturday and will remain on exhibition until Jan. 4, 2014, highlights both the world of Egypt and the world’s perception of Egypt throughout history.

Featured throughout the display are Egyptian artifacts as well as examples of Egyptian-inspired art and culture spanning from 3500 BCE to the 1960s.

The collection borrows pieces from museums around the country and world, such as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, but also aims to showcase Yale’s vast collection of Egyptian art and artifacts. Every Yale collection — including the Beinecke, Art Gallery and Babylonian Collection — has items on display, the exhibit’s curators said.

“It’s a sort of ‘meta-exhibit’ about how Egypt is understood across time and space,” assistant curator Alicia Cunningham-Bryant said. “We want to make people aware of how we interact with Egypt. Egypt has a mystical image. It belongs to all of us, and we’ve all been engaged in it.”

“Yale has unbelievable collections, and this is a way to put them all on display in the same place,” Peabody director Derek Briggs said.

Visitors enter the exhibit through a half-scale replica of Grove Street Cemetery’s Egyptian Revival gateway entrance, which was re-created by Peabody sculptor Michael Anderson. Lighting in the exhibit is “dramatically dark” because it features fragile books and papyri that would be damaged by light exposure, exhibit curator-in-charge Colleen Manassa ’01 GRD ’05, associate professor in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department.

“The collection is extremely rich, and one of the most diverse,” Manassa said.

Material in the exhibit also considers the history of Egyptology and the treatment of Egyptian artifacts throughout history, including the world’s first exhibition of Tutankhamen — which the Peabody hosted in 1962. Echoes of Egypt documents the process of interpreting hieroglyphs — such as an Arabic attempt at translation from the 800s — and traces cultural fascination with mummies, complete with a life-size diorama of a mummy unwrapping.

The exhibit also has an extensive website, which includes a list of every item in the collection as well as a driving tour of “Connecticut Egyptomania.”

Briggs said “Echoes of Egypt” is different from exhibits the Peabody has hosted in past years and has potential to attract a broader audience.

“The Peabody has a huge diversity of visitors, and this exhibit might appeal to usual visitors of art collections. Even though we’re a natural history museum, we have a significant art collection, and this is a chance to show it off.”

Collaborators agreed that work on “Echoes of Egypt” was an exciting and satisfying group effort.

“The best part of designing the exhibit was collaborating on something bigger than you could possibly do with your own hands,” exhibit designer Laura Friedman said.

“Echoes of Egypt” is sponsored by the Connecticut Humanities Council.

Correction: April 17

A previous version of this article misstated the name of Alicia Cunningham-Bryant.

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