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In Italy, a three-stage exhibition details Egypt’s long lasting influence on Greco-Roman culture

by Andrea Carli

Working as a team can maximize Italy's biggest treasure: her immense artistic heritage.

History itself occasionally provides the winning pass, the one even the most skillful defender does not expect, which gets an attacker standing in front of the goal posts alone – and scoring.

The playmaker in this case is Egyptian art, that ancient civilization born 3000 years before the Common Era along the shores of the Nile, whose influence spread to the 19th century and beyond. Turin, Pompeii and Naples, on the other hand, are the trio of attackers.

The goal posts? “Egypt Pompeii”: a major exhibition project articulated in three stages.

It starts in Turin, at the Egyptian Museum, tomorrow: from March 5th, “The Nile in Pompeii: Visions of Egypt in the Roman World” will run until September 4.

Paintings, pottery and sculptures will throw light on the fil rouge connecting the art of the Pharaohs with Greco-Roman art.

The show then moves to the archaeological site of Pompeii: “Egypt Pompeii,” from April 16 to November 2.

After which, the final leg of this journey ends at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples and its exhibition, from June 28, “Egypt Naples: Oriental Cults in Campania,, doubling up with “Egypt Naples: Egyptian Collections” (October 8).

The museum in Turin, the site in Pompeii and the museum in Naples aim at promoting an artistic dialogue between artifacts from the Pharaonic era and those of the Hellenistic-Republican (and Imperial) ages that were influenced by ancient Egypt.

The decorative themes running through Pharaonic art and connected with the cult of Isis and other Egyptian deities (Serapis, Harpocrates and Anubis) return in the frescoes and mosaics on show (not to mention the statues...).

In Turin, the tale is told in three chapters: the way the ancient Greeks viewed and absorbed Egyptian cults and artistic expression, the way Egyptian deities were “Hellenized” under the Ptolemies, and finally, the spread of Egyptian cults in the Mediterranean region and in Italy in particular.

In Pompeii, exhibits will include seven lion-headed statues representing the goddess Sekhmet (they will be placed in the Large Gymnasium) as well as the statue of Pharaoh Thutmose III sitting on the throne.

The granite monolyths testify to the centrality of sun worship. The exhibition will also wind through the streets of Pompeii, from the Temple of Isis to the gardens and domus featuring Egyptian-style decorations, such as the House of Loreius Tiburtinus.

In Naples, finally, focus of the exhibition that's set to open in June are cults, born or hailing from the East via Egypt (from Sabatius to Dusares, to Mitra), which spread through Campania from the 1st century onwards. There will be no lack of references to Judaism and early Christianity.

In October, on the other hand, the Naples Museum will reopen its Egyptian Collection to the public: over 1,200 artifacts that, together with those of Turin, constitute one of the most important Egyptian collections in Italy.

“Three distinct institutions truly can implement a major project of national interest, within a vast scientific design,” said Dario Franceschini, Minister for Cultural Heritage, when the project was presented last Thursday. “Teamwork under the aegis of science.”

The slogan's in place, the first step's been taken, all that's left is to follow the path. Without losing our bearings.

(“The Nile in Pompeii: Visions of Egypt in the Roman World”, Egyptian Museum in Turin from March 5 to September 4; “Egypt Pompeii”, Pompeii Archaeological Site, Large Gymnasium, Amphitheater Gate from April 16 to November 2; “Egypt Naples: Oriental Cults in Campania”, from June 28, National Archaeological Museum of Naples; “Egypt Naples: The Egyptian Collection”, from October 8, same museum)


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