British Museum makes biggest-ever international loan for Ancient Egypt blockbuster in Melbourne

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The beleaguered British Museum’s most ambitious international loan of ancient Egyptian artefacts from its collections will arrive in Melbourne next year.

In the midst of the British Museum’s crisis following the large-scale theft of objects from its collections, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne has announced the exhibition Pharaoh, which “celebrates 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian art and culture”.

Pharaoh will feature more than 500 British Museum objects including monumental sculpture, tomb and temple architecture, coffins and funerary objects, as well as ancient Egyptian jewellery.

“Spanning from the First Dynasty (around 3,000BC) to the Roman period (fourth century AD), Pharaoh explores the fascinating lives, myths and images of successive rulers of ancient Egypt through exquisitely crafted examples of art, design and architecture,” an NGV statement says.

“The works on display were commissioned by and celebrate some of Egypt’s most famous kings and queens, including the boy king Tutankhamun; Ramses II and Queen Nefertari; Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza; as well as foreign leaders such as Alexander the Great.”

One section of the exhibition will focus on the craftspeople who cut and decorated the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Their village, Deir el-Medina, is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Egypt.

The art and artistry of the ancient Egyptians will be highlighted, giving audiences an appreciation of their skill as sculptors, painters and craftspeople, whose lives were largely spent working in service of the Pharaoh.

Daniel Antoine, the keeper of the Egypt and Sudan Department at the British Museum, says the museum’s ancient Egyptian collection was one of the most comprehensive outside of Egypt.

“We are thrilled to be able to share the collection with the Australian public,” Antoine says.

NGV director Tony Ellwood says Pharaoh “seeks to introduce a new generation of visitors to the perennially fascinating visual culture of ancient Egypt through an unprecedented exhibition of sculpture, architecture, jewellery and more from the British Museum in London”.

Pharaoh will be on display from 14 June until 16 October 2024 as part of the Victorian Government’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series. This year’s Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the NGV is Pierre Bonnard, Designed by India Mahdavi (until 8 October).

The British Museum’s former Greek and Roman curator Peter Higgs, was fired in July and is now facing a police investigation into the thefts. Higgs’s family has denied the allegations against him.

Hartwig Fischer stepped down as the British Museum’s director on 25 August, and Mark Jones has been named interim director.

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