Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt
October 16, 2012 - July 28, 2013
Members' Preview, Monday, October 15, 2012
The Marshall and Doris Holleb Family Special Exhibits Gallery is being transformed into a lush bird habitat with videos of birds flying overhead and the sounds of birds calling to each other. All this sets the stage for “Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt,” the first American exhibit devoted to birds in the Nile Valley.
The exhibit explores the impact that birds had on ancient Egyptian religion, design, and the conception of the state. The Egyptians believed that all life emerged from an egg symbolized by the womb, represented in the exhibit by a magnificent ancient ostrich egg. At the end of life, they were buried in a coffin, which was also called an egg, creating a never-ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth based on birds.
The exhibit includes forty artifacts that emphasize how omnipresent birds were in ancient Egyptian culture. The exhibit is divided into sections dealing with bird imagery and the state; the exploitation of birds; birds as protective deities; birds as hieroglyphs; birds and the afterlife; and bird cults. The latter section features the newest forensic examination of bird mummies. The conclusion to the show is devoted to the conservation of wetlands in the Chicago area and in Egypt.
The show mainly contains objects from the Oriental Institute Museum, many of which have never been exhibited, such as the legs for a folding stool that are beautifully inlaid with ivory in imitation of duck heads, the mummy of an eagle with remains of gilding, and a small bronze coffin topped with a figure of a falcon wearing a crown.
The exhibit also includes treasures from other museums. From the Art Institute of Chicago is a bronze statue of the falcon-headed god Re-Horakhty, an exquisite carving of a quail chick, and a cosmetic dish in the form of a bird gliding on the surface of water. The Brooklyn Museum has sent a spectacular coffin for an ibis mummy decorated with gold, silver, and rock crystal, while the Field Museum of Natural History loaned a stone monument incised with an image of the enthroned king in the form of a falcon.
The exhibit is curated by Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer, a doctoral candidate in Egyptology at the University of Chicago and a life-long “birder.” A fully illustrated catalog, edited by Bailleul-LeSuer, accompanies the exhibit.
Public Programs in Conjunction with the Exhibit:
- November 10: A free public symposium, co-sponsored by the Oriental Institute and the Audubon Society, will explore the role of birds in ancient Egypt. Among the speakers are curator Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer, Foy Scalf, doctoral candidate in Egyptology at the University of Chicago, and Gay Robins, an art historian from Emory University.
- October 17 and November 14: Bailleul-LeSuer offers free gallery tours at 12:15.
- October 21: Bailleul-LeSuer leads a bird-watching walk in Jackson Park.
For more information on programs, go to http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/, or call 773 702 9507.
Revised: January 17, 2013