Carlos Museum mounts major exhibition of ancient Egyptian art from The British Museum

On Feb. 4, the Michael C. Carlos Museum will open "Reflections of Women in the New Kingdom: Ancient Egyptian Art From The British Museum," an exhibition of 93 objects including relief sculptures, statues, papyri and textiles from the collections of The British Museum. This is the first major exhibition of ancient Egyptian art to be sent from The British Museum to the United States. It is the seventh International Loan Project organized by the Carlos Museum and is curated by Gay Robins, faculty curator of Ancient Egyptian Art.

"Reflections of Women" will reveal how women were perceived in ancient Egypt and will examine the roles that were open to them in what was a male-dominated society. The exhibition will not only give an enlightened and unique perspective on the role of women in the ancient society, but also should encourage visitors to consider the position of women in their own society.

The ancient Egyptians produced one of the longest-lasting and most fascinating early civilizations. In formulating views about their society and the world around them, the Egyptians expressed themselves more readily in visual images than words. One of the most striking aspects of their art is the ubiquity of female images.

A woman's status in ancient Egyptian society depended on the status of her family. Because it was the elite social class that created texts and monuments, the information and objects in the exhibit primarily give insight into the role of elite women in ancient Egypt.

The exhibition is organized in 11 sections that will explore subjects including the ideal female image; the social roles of women; pregnancy, childbirth and the family; female sexuality; and death.

The images created to represent the women of ancient Egypt are ideal in form; young and beautiful, with little attention given to age. Success in a woman's life was measured by child-bearing achievements, but this was not incorporated into the female image because the rigors of bearing children left women no longer attractive to men. Women are also shown as physically weaker and less active than men. The images of Egyptian women are exemplified in Section I.

Section II explores women's images on men's monuments. These images normally reflected women in a subordinate status, indicated usually by the smaller size of the woman or often by the placement of the woman in a secondary position while the man occupied a primary place.

Highlighted in Section III of the exhibit are women as owners of monuments, which occurred most often in the form of votive stelae in temples. When a woman owned a monument, she was portrayed as the most important figure, occupying a dominant position. In these examples, however, she rarely appeared with her spouse because a woman's image could not take precedence over her husband's.

Although women could dedicate funerary monuments, the types of monuments women could own were highly restricted. Section IV of the exhibition explores the types of monuments owned by men.

Section V exemplifies the social roles of women in ancient Egyptian society. In ancient Egyptian art women are rarely shown engaged in their social roles. However, social roles can be inferred from titles found on the monuments. Women are often referred to as the "mistress of the house," alluding to their role in running the household, or "musician" indicating they served as a musician in a temple.

Section VI focuses on royal women and concentrates on Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th dynasty, one of the few women to have taken the title and privileges of a king and ruled in her own right.

Pregnancy, childbirth and family, often the center of a woman's life in ancient Egypt, are presented in Section VII. Sections VIII and IX reveal the supernatural influences on women's lives, especially those that related to fertility and childbirth.

Section X focuses on female sexuality. The sexuality of women was of great importance to Egyptian men because it also represented potential fertility.

The final section of the exhibition explores death. Women are seen performing funerary rites and mourning at funerals.

This exhibition has been made possible through support from the National Endowment for the Arts, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and the Carlos Museum Board of Directors' Annual Fund. Additional assistance has been provided by American Express Travel Related Services Company Inc. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

-- Anna Lalos