26 December 2010
All Egyptians joined hands to celebrate the centenary of the Coptic Museum. The Culture Ministry, represented by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, showcased a collection of Coptic art in an exhibition entitled Coptic Art Revealed at al-Amir (Prince) Taz museum in the district of Khalifa, Cairo. The Prince Taz museum was chosen for an explicit reason. Being among the finest houses in Islamic Cairo—it was built by the Mamluk prince Taz in 1352—it was seen fit that a magnificent Islamic monument should house a splendid Coptic collection.
The exhibition runs till 31 January 2011.
According to Maria Benyamin Tawadrus who is assistant curator at the Coptic Museum, the exhibition displays more than 200 objects in a dramatic-themed setting, revealing the splendour of Coptic art and shedding the light on Copts’ outstanding contribution to Egypt’s divers and rich heritage.
The exhibits were carefully selected from several museum collections in Egypt. They include treasures from the Coptic Museum’s storage department and significant artworks from its permanent display, as well as pieces from the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat and the Museum of Islamic Art in Bab al-Khalq. Items were also selected from the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria and the Museum of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, as were several items from the Beni-Sueif and al-Arish museums. The exhibition includes icons by renowned artists, beautiful textiles, manuscripts, an excerpt from the famous Nag Hammadi Library, discovered in 1945, stone and wooden friezes with intricate Coptic designs and splendid daily-use objects, among other invaluable pieces.
The exhibition takes guests on a tour back to early Christianity, when the Holy Family fled to Egypt. Kamilia Makram Girgis, curator of the manuscripts department at the Coptic Museum, says that for this reason a manuscript of the Gospel of St Matthew, the only source which cited the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, is on display. A marble stele depicting the flight to Egypt, as well as other pieces that depict the flight are also exhibited.
The exhibition shows how the new religion, Christianity, survived among the older religions; illustrating the overlap of Pharaonic, Greco-Roman and early Christian motifs. The most remarkable feature of Coptic art is that it represents the mixture of influences of a multicultural milieu, combining the impact of the Mediterranean region while maintaining the local artistic traditions. The theme of the persecution of Egyptian Christians at the hands of the Roman Emperors and the Coptic martyrs forms a major part of the exhibition. The monastic movement is also highlighted, with elements form monasteries such as Bawit columns on display. Showcased are also a variety of crosses which came into being in different forms, including the Greek cross.
Manuscripts on show include the Coptic Divine Liturgy, which is the oldest celebrated religious service in the world, as well as biblical stories such as Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise, the Nativity, Moses and the burning bush, and the sacrifice of Abraham, and Jonah. Different samples of the few musical instruments used to accompany church service, and oil lamps, are displayed.
The collection of daily life objects is exquisite. Decorated with beautiful and fine motifs, there are jewellery items, children’s toys, and beauty accessories. The geographical setting of the Coptic era is shown on maps, helping guests locate numerous important religious and economic centres throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, including renowned monasteries and towns in Egypt of Late Antiquity.
“This exhibition shows Egypt’s cultural diversity…it is a Coptic exhibition in an Islamic monument,” Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said at the opening ceremony, adding that it celebrates Coptic art as part of the long and proud tradition that left an indelible mark on the pages of the world history. According to Hosni, the exhibition brings to life a facet of the timeless personality of the people of the Nile. It is scheduled to tour Egypt’s governorates including Alexandria, Aswan, and Luxor, to then move to Austria and Germany.
Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the exhibition was the first locally produced exhibition on Coptic art.
The exhibition was made possible by a number of financing sponsors, including the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, and several Egyptian businessmen among whom are Tharwat Bassili of Amoun Holding Company and Naguib Sawiris of Orascom Telecom.
Among the attendees of the ceremony were Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, and Egyptian international actor Omar Sharif. “Pope Shenouda III did not manage to attend the opening since it coincided with the weekly lecture His Holiness gives at the St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo,” said Coptic businessman Hany Aziz who is a friend of the Pope.