PAST: Sarcophagi

Under the stars of Nut
Thu 15-10-2015 - Sat 30-04-2016

Eternity! To live once more like the god of the afterlife Osiris, or to rise again like the sun that is born from the womb of Nut, godess of the sky... The ancient Egyptians had high expectations of life after death!
Last fall you could discover in the Cinquantenaire Museum the secrets of the Egyptian sarcophagi as well as some true masterpieces of the Museum collections, including coffins, death masks and embalmed cats, many of which have never been shown before. You could also witness an expert Italian restoration team at work as they restore the coffins of the Theban priests that were discovered in 1891 in the Second Cache of Deir el-Bahari one by one.

The twelve hours of the night
The exhibition followed the sun during her nightly journey towards the dawn where she will be born anew. A journey encompassing the so-called twelve hours of the night. Every gallery, or every nightly hour, featured an eye-catching centrepiece chosen for its rich religious, funerary, historical or aesthetic qualities. During the ‘first hour’ the visitor experienced the Egyptian mourning ritual through the display of four remarkable statues of wailing women that cry over the deceased. The ‘second hour’ showed us the items the dead needed to bring with them to ensure safe passage to the realm of Osiris, god of the Afterlife. The hours that follow provided us with a chronological sketch of the evolution of sarcophagi from ordinary non adorned coffins from the prehistoric era and the Old Kingdom, to the richly decorated examples of the later periods. One hall was entirely dedicated to the ancient Egyptian process of mummification.

Witness the restoration
The ancient Egyptians called their mummification centres Ibu, meaning Pure Place. Taking centre stage was the restoration laboratory where you can see the experts of the Istituto Europeo del Restauro in Ischia (Italy) at work. They were be restoring the ten sarcophagi and ‘mummy planks’ from the Second Cache of Deir el-Bahari that are part of the collections of the Cinquantenaire Museum.

The secret of the sarcophagi 
The exhibition tried to unravel the complex secrets of these sarcophagi. About 2/3 of the objects on view were never before be shown to a larger audience. The archaeological adventures that lead to their discovery were explained in detail as well the magical and mythological implications these objects held for the ancient Egyptians. Objects where every element, however small, was significant.