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Leiden contributes to Getty Museum exhibition

Leiden researchers have made an important contribution to the successful ‘Beyond the Nile’ exhibition in the American J. Paul Getty Museum. They also contributed to the exhibition volume that will be presented to Rector Magnificus Carel stolker on 5 September.

Leideners in LA

The group of Leiden researchers worked for several months in Los Angeles preparing the exhibition in the J. Paul Getty Museum there. Jorrit Kelder, researcher at the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) who also works at the university's knowledge valorisation office LURIS, helped bring about the collaboration with the American museum - one of the world's most prestigious centres of art. Together with Professor of Egyptology Olaf Kaper, Professor of Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology Miguel John Versluys, and archaeologist Richard Veymiers, Kelder worked as a research fellow at the Getty  Museum. The Leiden team conducted research and advised on the design of this highly popular exhibition. 

This 'Egyptian' alabaster vase with the head of Osiris was made by the Greeks. This key exhibit from the RMO was also one of the exhibits in the Getty Museum.
This 'Egyptian' alabaster vase with the head of Osiris was made by the Greeks. This key exhibit from the RMO was also one of the exhibits in the Getty Museum.

Presenting the exhibition book

To mark of the good collaboration between the Getty Museum, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and Leiden University, Getty director Timothy Potts will present the exhibition book ‘Beyond the Nile. Egypt and the Classical World’ to Rector Carel Stolker on 5 September in Leiden's National Museum of Antiquities. The book describes the objects from the exhibition and includes additional information. The Leiden researchers also contributed to the book, which is regarded as the prime reference work on contacts between the three cultures. 

The book of the exhibition.

Tradition of Leiden research

The dividing line between the Greek, Roman and Egyptian cultures is tenuous, as the exhibition shows. 'We know Egypt as the country of the pharoahs, the pyramids and obelisks, but very few people know that there are more obelisks in Europe than in Egypt,' Kelder comments. ‘Many features that we would describe as Classical Greek or Roman were originally conceived in Egypt. Egypt had close links with the Greeks from around 2000 BC. Leiden University has a long tradition of research on ancient Egypt and the contacts between the Greek and Roman worlds and Egypt. This long experience is what prompted the Getty Museum to ask for our help and advice.' 'Beyond the Nile’ has been a great hit, and has received very positive reviews. The exhibition is open until 9 September 2018.

The mummy-shaped sarcophagus of Wahibreëmachet is so big that the front door of the National Museum of Antiquities  had to be removed before it could be transported to Los Angeles.
The mummy-shaped sarcophagus of Wahibreëmachet is so big that the front door of the National Museum of Antiquities had to be removed before it could be transported to Los Angeles.

Sarcophagus is a showstopper

To complete the Leiden contribution, the National Museum of Antiquities has loaned the Getty Museum a number of key exhibits, including an enormous sarcophagus. This is now the main public attraction at the exhibition. All the features of the mummy-shaped coffin point to it being Egyptian, but appearances can be deceptive. There are hieroglyphs with the names of those who have died, and they seem to be Greek names. The dead were originally Greek, although they had lived in Egypt for a long time. This makes the  sarcophagus an excellent example of how these cultures merged. The  Getty Museum built an enormous base for the sarcophagus and this will be given to the RMO when the sarcophagus is returned. 

Mutual trust

‘The Getty project is an excellent example of outreach, a means of  bringing scientific knowledge to the public,' Kelder explains. The exhibition asked important questions in an accessible way, such as: What is identity? And what makes you Greek or Egyptian? ‘It's wonderful that we as a university can work on this kind of activity. It also shows that we are more than a place where people do research and teach.' He believes this cooperation has other benefits. 'Because you work intensively together over a period of time, you build up mutual trust. Both the Leiden and the American researchers who worked on the Getty project are now more likely to call one another if they have any questions.'

The Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World exhibition in the J. Paul Getty Museum is open until 9 September 2018.

Text: Carin Röst
Photos: RMO

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