Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh Opens at Kimbell

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Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh Opens at Kimbell
Hatshepsut as Female King (detail), Egypt, early 18th Dynasty, joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III (1479–1458 B.C.); granite. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Rogers Fund, 1929 (head and lower parts); Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden (torso).

FORT WORTH, TX.- The Kimbell Art Museum presents Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh, on view through December 31, 2006. Can a queen be a king? In ancient Egypt she could, as will be seen in the landmark exhibition Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. This major and spectacular exhibition explores the 20-year reign of Hatshepsut (c. 1479–1458 B.C.), the first great female ruler known to history.

Hatshepsut is perhaps the most intriguing figure in ancient Egyptian history—a queen who attained all the powers, and even the physical trappings, of a pharaoh. As ruler of the most powerful nation on earth, she oversaw an artistic renewal that produced some of the greatest masterpieces of Egyptian art. Hatshepsut was neither the first nor the last woman to rule Egypt, but her reign was the longest and the most successful. This exhibition brings us as close as we will ever be to Hatshepsut the woman, the queen, and the pharaoh.

When Hatshepsut ascended the throne about 1473 B.C., the pyramids were more than 1,000 years old, and 17 dynasties of kings had come and gone since the unification of the "Two Lands" of Upper and Lower Egypt about 3100 B.C. Although less familiar to modern audiences than her much later successor, the notorious Cleopatra (51–30 B.C.), Hatshepsut's achievements were more significant and place her with the great European queens, like England's Elizabeth I, in the annals of world history. Ruling first as regent for, then as co-ruler with, her nephew Thutmose III (who ruled for another 33 years after her death), Hatshepsut enjoyed a relatively peaceful reign at the beginning of the New Kingdom. She stabilized the country and restored monuments destroyed during the disruptive Second Intermediate Period, when northern Egypt was controlled by invaders from the Levant (Syria-Palestine). She renewed trade with the Near East, the far-off land of Punt to the south, and the Aegean islands of Greece to the north. The resulting economic prosperity was richly reflected in the art of the time, which is characterized by remarkable innovations in sculpture and decorative arts and which produced such architectural marvels as Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh brings together a vast treasure of royal statuary and relief; sculptures representing members of the royal court; and a wide variety of ceremonial objects, finely crafted furniture, dazzling royal jewelry, and other exquisite personal items that tell the compelling story of Hatshepsut's reign and reveal the diverse and exquisite artistic production of her time. Works in the exhibition have been assembled from the major American and European museums, including many works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's extensive holdings of objects excavated by the museum's Egyptian Expedition in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a group of select loans from Cairo and Luxor in Egypt.

Born in the 15th century B.C., Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I and Ahmose, assumed the throne after her half-brother/husband died, her nephew/stepson Thutmose not yet being of an age to rule. As a woman in nominal control of the most powerful civilization in the world, Hatshepsut had many obstacles to overcome. There was always a threat of revolt, especially as her nephew came of age and could be manipulated by powerful cliques at court. But she managed to keep these challenges at bay. Using artistic propaganda and keen political skills, after six years as regent for Thutmose III, Hatshepsut became the "king" in statuary and other official art for the remaining 15 years of her rule. She even dressed in the traditional garb of male pharaohs.

Hatshepsut was clearly an able politician and an elegant stateswoman whose intelligence and charisma allowed her to maintain firm control of Egypt in a period when other major states were emerging in the Near East to her north and east. During her reign the country prospered, the arts flourished, and peace prevailed. For reasons that are not completely understood—but perhaps because the idea of female rulership offended the conservative priesthood and other powerful factions—her reign was erased from Egyptian history not long after her death.

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh examines the phenomenon of Hatshepsut as a female pharaoh and the effects of her reign on Egyptian history, culture, and the astonishingly creative artistic output of the time. The exhibition traces the history of her reign, including the main characters of her family and inner circle, through the court and funerary art that has survived. Particular attention is given to statuary of the royal steward Senenmut, the most powerful man in Egypt, who oversaw Hatshepsut's estates when she was queen, was tutor to her daughter Neferure, and served as the overseer of the estates of Amun, then the chief god in the Egyptian pantheon. Of all the members of Hatshepsut's court, Senenmut was the most powerful, the best known, and most often represented. Among the many sculpted images of him, one of the most exquisite and beautifully preserved is in the Kimbells own collection.

The exhibition features a number of monumental statues of Hatshepsut herself, including images of her as a female ruler, as a masculine king, and as a sphinx. They include one of only two statues of Hatshepsut from Deir el-Bahri (the site of her mortuary temple), in which her dress style and adornment depict her as female royalty. Numerous objects that belonged to courtiers and other elites during the rule of Hatshepsut are also presented, including elegant stone vessels, lavish gold jewelry, and furniture.

A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, is available in the Museum Shop (softcover, $45; hardcover, $65).

The exhibition is organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, and by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, Federal agencies.

The coordinating curator and organizer of the exhibition at the Kimbell is the Museum's director, Timothy Potts. Fort Worth is the final venue for this groundbreaking exhibition, which was previously seen at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Promotional support for this exhibition in Fort Worth is provided by American Airlines and NBC5.

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