Art

‘Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharoahs’ Exhibition Relives History at de Young Museum 

By Michael Durand

About 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, when most of California’s ancient redwood trees were not even seeds yet, Egyptian artists were creating stunning masterpieces to honor the pharaohs who were considered living gods. Now these world treasures have landed for a visit in San Francisco.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco presents the exclusive West Coast presentation of the international touring exhibition “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs.” Touted as a  “once-in-a-lifetime installation” is now on display at the de Young Museum. The exhibition will run until February, 2023.

Rare Egyptian treasures are on display at the de Young Museum’s “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” exhibit. Photo by Michael Durand.

The presentation explores the life and accomplishments of one of the most remarkable and celebrated rulers in world history, Ramses II, known today as Ramses the Great. More than 180 objects – many newly discovered and having never left Egypt before – feature exquisite sculptures and precious treasures. There is also a state-of-the-art multimedia production that demonstrates the opulence and power of ancient Egyptian civilization.

“‘Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs’ reveals the power and splendor of ancient Egypt and expands on the history conveyed within our own collection of ancient art,” Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco was quoted in a press release. “Once the exhibition completes its international tour, these objects will return to Egyptian museums and will likely not travel again for decades.”

“Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” focuses on the life of the eminent military officer Ramses II, a crown prince who eventually became one of the longest-ruling kings of Egypt in a 67-year reign. Known through time as Ramses the Great, he was the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty and is regarded as the mightiest and most celebrated pharaoh of the New Kingdom – Egypt’s Golden Age – when it was a wealthy and powerful empire. 

Ramses the Great’s tomb is located in the Valley of the Kings, the final resting place of New Kingdom pharaohs for more than 500 years. This tomb was plundered in ancient times. “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” includes objects from royal tombs found elsewhere in Egypt to offer an idea of the extraordinary objects that Ramses’s tomb must have included.

“Ramses II is considered to be the greatest king ever to rule Egypt,” says Egypt’s secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Mostafa Waziri. “This exhibition will illuminate the pivotal moments that earned the great pharaoh his place in history, while bringing visitors face-to-face with absolutely stunning Egyptian artifacts. ‘Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs’ is one of the most remarkable exhibitions to ever tour the globe, and it is a true honor for it to visit the great city of San Francisco and the de Young Museum.” 

Ramses’ absolute power and religious devotion are encapsulated in this half-lion, half-human sphinx. Symbols of physical power, lions, then as now, were closely associated with royalty. Here Ramses offers a vessel of holy water to Amun Re, king of the gods.This sphinx stood in Amun Re’s great temple at Karnak. Photo by Michael Durand.

The first exhibition about Ramses the Great in more than 30 years is the first ever to be presented in San Francisco. The installation features the most important trove of works of art and treasures related to Ramses the Great to ever leave Egypt. Royal statues, sarcophagi, spectacular masks, magnificent jewelry and ornate golden tomb treasures reveal the fabulous wealth of the pharaohs, the astonishing skill of ancient Egyptian tomb builders, and the superb workmanship of Egyptian artists. 

The grand installation also includes recently discovered animal mummies – including those of small cats, lion cubs, and a mongoose – from the Saqqara necropolis, on view for the first time, as well as treasures discovered in the royal tombs in Dahshur and Tanis (many of which have never traveled to the United States before).

Drone photography, immersive video settings, multimedia productions and photomurals re-create the life and accomplishments of Ramses, including his monumental building projects and his triumph at the Battle of Kadesh (considered the largest chariot battle ever fought). The exhibition also offers a virtual reality (VR) component, “Ramses and Nefertari: Journey to Osiris,” which is installed in the museum’s Piazzoni Murals Room (viewable at extra charge). The immersive VR experience includes cinematic-motion chairs that take visitors on a whirlwind tour of two of Ramses’s most impressive monuments, Abu Simbel and Nefertari’s Tomb.

Learn more at https://deyoung.famsf.org/exhibitions/ramses-great-and-gold-pharaohs.

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