Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cleopatra, The Exhibition

The California Science Center is currently hosting a wonderful exhibition of artifacts from the famous Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. This exhibition is filled with wonderfully preserved sculptures that have been retrieved from the ocean floor - remnants of a destroyed palace belonging to Cleopatra which sat on the edge of the harbor at Alexandria over 2,000 years ago. 

 All these never before seen items (there were 150 of them) are in remarkably good condition.
The IMAX Theatre showed the film, Mysteries of Egypt
I got to see this exhibit recently with a few friends.  First, we watched the IMAX movie, The Mysteries of Egypt.  While I enjoyed this movie, it was apparent that the film was prepared for the Tutanhkamun Tour several years ago, rather than this Cleopatra exhibit.  It was a nice film, though, narrated by Omar Sharif.  This spectacular film showed helicopter views of the Nile river and explained why the ancient Egyptian culture flourished.  It then discussed the discovery of King Tut's fabulous burial chamber back in the 1920s, with nary a word about Cleopatra or the fairly recent discoveries we were about to view.

As we entered the actual exhibit, inside the California Science Center, we heard a brief orientation lecture.  I was glad I'd been reading up on Cleopatra and her life before I saw this collection, however.  It made me appreciate it more, I think.

The details of these sculptures was wonderful, as they were beautifully preserved in the salt water, rather than subjected to the sun and wind and the vicissitudes of life, had they remained on land.

If you look closely, you can see our friend Jeff on the right, behind the statue.

The placard beneath the above pictured statue

Wow.  I loved the jewelry.
This is just a small sampling of the jewelry (above) that was recovered from the ocean floor.  It was just gorgeous, and amazingly modern looking.  It seemed more like it came from an upscale jewelry store, rather than an archaeological dig.  Those goldsmiths of Cleopatra's day were incredibly talented.

I want those earrings.

This head belonged to a statue originally 12 feet tall!

16-foot tall Ptolemaic King and Queen statues

Archaeologists believe this is a bust of Prince Caesarian
Caesarian, Cleopatra's son with Julius Caesar, was killed by Octavian, who was to become Augustus Caesar, after the Roman Legions conquered Egypt.  Octavian feared Caesarian trying to claim the Roman throne for himself.
This statue represents a monk from an Egyptian Temple, carrying a vase
I love the gentle folds of the draperies on these statues, like the one above.  Ancient Greek statues were painted to look life-like.  I have no idea if the Egyptians did the same with their statuary, but I suspect they might have.  Regardless, these works must have looked spectacular when new and in their places amid the other opulent palaces and temples of ancient Alexandria.

In its heyday, Alexandria was a bustling, modern metropolis and home to a quarter of a million people.  The library of Alexandria was world famous and the largest of its time.
I really enjoyed this exhibit, even though it was very crowded.  I also thought there could have been more information about the underwater excavation as well as about the life of Cleopatra.  You got some of it in bits and pieces with the little recorder guides you were given, but I guess I wanted more!

 These Sphinxes (above and below) bear the faces of Cleopatra's children (she had 4, one with Julius Caesar and 3 with Mark Antony).  I've puzzled how the mother of 4 children, even threatened with public humiliation through the street of Rome as a conquered Queen, could commit suicide, as Cleopatra and Mark Antony did after the Roman victory.

At the very end of the exhibit was a large collage - images of actresses who have played Cleopatra in the movies (such as Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Theda Bara, etc), together with the images of Cleopatra by famous artists through the centuries.  It's obvious that the story of Cleopatra has captured peoples' imaginations for centuries.

This bust of Cleopatra wasn't in the exhibit.
This is an ancient artist's idea of what she may have looked like. 
According to several ancient historians, Cleopatra wasn't all that physically beautiful, however, she had a beautiful voice, spoke 6 languages, and was intelligent, witty, and vivacious.

Seeing items that were part of her daily life, made me wonder about her.  Did she really believe she was a representative of the goddess Isis on earth?  Did she really care for Julius Caesar or Mark Antony, or just using them for political reasons?  She was very young (17) when she had the responsibility for an entire country - a country filled with political turmoil, enemies within and without, financial troubles, and an epidemic - thrust upon her.

I espouse the theory that she did the best she could under the circumstances.  Spending an afternoon peeking into her life was a bit romantic, interesting and quite thought provoking.

The Cleopatra Exhibit is currently here on the West Coast until December 31st, as part of a tour sponsored, in part, by National Geographic.

Some photos by E. Gustainis, some by me.

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

Oh,I love this post!