Egyptian treasures start U.S. tour

'Masterworks of Ancient Art' schedule includes Kansas City showing

— One of the most impressive displays of Egyptian art ever to enter the United States contains works ranging from hand-sized glass and ivory statues to immense stone figures of lions and kings that weigh several tons.

"Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art From The British Museum" will stop in eight U.S. cities during the next two years while the British Museum in London undergoes a renovation of its Egyptian galleries.

It is the first time most of these pieces have been seen in the United States. The exhibit opened this month in Toledo and will end May 27. It will then move to Memphis, Tenn., and New York City later this year.

Tucked away in the show are the secrets of the ancient papyrus scrolls.

Chips of limestone found in garbage pits near Egyptian villages reveal that artists drew grids on the stones and then sketched their work. The drawings likely were intended to be copied onto a temple wall.

These "rough drafts," along with statues of pharaohs and lions, give glimpses of the subtle and dramatic changes in style and forms of Egyptian art.

"These are proof that the ancient Egyptians worked the way we do � by doodling, practicing and perfecting their work," says Sandra Knudsen, curator of ancient art at the Toledo Museum of Art.

The exhibition spans 35 centuries dating from about 3100 B.C. to 400 A.D.

It is arranged chronologically into four major periods of Egyptian art � the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and the Late Period.

The early statues of nonroyal Egyptians were sculpted to imitate the features of the king. As the works evolve during the Middle Kingdom, nonroyals began placing statues of themselves in temples.

These gifts for the gods were created for temples and tombs. Egyptians believed the statues would magically participate in the temple rituals.

One of the most impressive pieces is the life-size standing figure of King Tutankhamen holding an altar. Made of black and white granite, it is dated to 1336-1320 B.C.

The biggest of the 144 pieces on display � and one of the British Museum's most famous works � is the Lion of Amenhotep III. The 7-foot-long lion is carved in pink granite and weighs 7,760 pounds. It normally stands at the entrance of the British Museum's Egyptian sculpture gallery.

The sheer size of the exhibit, which includes about 40 tons of stone, was a concern for many of the museums. Stress tests were conducted on the Toledo museum's floor to ensure that the galleries could support the weight.

"We were joking that we'll get a call saying the lion's gone through the floor," says Nigel Strudwick, assistant curator in the department of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum.

Another concern is the stress of travel on the objects that are up to 5,000 years old. Works made of wood and ivory are especially susceptible to damage.

"It's going to put a major stress on the objects," Strudwick says. "It would be wrong to say we're not worried."


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