Thursday March 10, 2016
Tags for: The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt
  • Press Release

The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt

exterior of the CMA building

Exhibition examines the myths and realities of the Egyptian kings’ power through extraordinary ancient objects from the British Museum

Cleveland (March 10, 2016) Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt brings 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history to life through some of the finest objects from the British Museum’s vast holdings and several of Cleveland’s own masterworks. The first Egyptian art exhibition organized at the Cleveland Museum of Art since 1996, Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt looks past the myth to reveal the carefully designed personas of the Egyptian kings and explore the realities of daily life for the ancient royals. Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt, a centennial special exhibition, is on view in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Hall from March 13 through June 12, 2016.

Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt includes more than 150 objects, from monumental sculpture to exquisite jewelry. While many objects on view were created to project a regal, all-powerful image of the pharaoh, the story that emerges is also one of a country at times divided by civil war, conquered by foreign powers or ruled by competing kings. These ancient rulers were not always male, or even Egyptian, but they shared the challenges of ruling one of the greatest civilizations the world has seen.

“In ancient Egypt the image of the pharaoh was first and foremost an official one, linked to the politico-religious nature of Egyptian kingship,” said Aude Semat, guest curator of the exhibition and lecturer in Egyptology at the École du Louvre. “However, the reality of power was somewhat more complicated. Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt presents an opportunity to glimpse the back stories behind the exercise of power.” 

The exhibition is divided into ten thematic sections. The introductory gallery, with its single monumental sculpture, gives a sense of the grandiose scale of Egyptian temples. The Hathor capital, from about 874–850 BC, once sat atop a column in a temple devoted to the goddess Bastet, one of the many gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. The combined Egypt, Land of the Pharaohs and Born of the Gods gallery establishes exactly who the pharaoh was: ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, the unification of which was central to Egyptian kingship. Pharaoh was the incarnation of the divine Horus, and worshiping the gods was one of his main obligations. This gallery shows pharaohs making offerings and depictions of gods and goddesses from tombs and temples. 

The Symbols of Power gallery presents objects of the pharaoh’s power – the crook and flail, the uraeus (a spitting, rearing cobra) and images of royal crowns – as well as representations of the king wearing or wielding them. Every pharaoh was expected to build new temples and embellish existing ones. In Temples: The Kings and the Gods, lintels, reliefs and figures from temples, including a sphinx, reveal the importance of pleasing the gods. The gallery dedicated to Festivals and Memory demonstrates how important it was to remember previous rulers, or erase them from memory. Images of two deified kings from an earlier dynasty can be seen inside the Coffin Case of Bakenmut. The objects in the gallery Royal Life: Palace and Family include tiles, relief fragments, figurines, scarabs and jewelry, attesting to the lavish decoration of the palace and the royal family’s costuming. 

Running Egypt: Officials and Government includes statues of government officials, including the vizier (Egypt’s highest official, a powerful figure who oversaw most of the country’s internal affairs), as well as priests and scribes. A rare papyrus from the Old Kingdom records administrative and economic procedures, including priests’ duties and calendars, sources of temple income, an equipment inventory and more. 

From the Nubians and Libyans to the Greeks and Romans, ancient Egypt was periodically under foreign rule. Foreigners on the Throne presents two heads of Alexander the Great as well as evidence that foreign rulers often declared themselves pharaoh and followed Egyptian customs. The surprising rise of army general Horemheb to become pharaoh is a highlight of the War and Diplomacy gallery. Also on view are a stela depicting Pharaoh Sanakht of Dynasty 3 as he prepares to smite an enemy, and a section from the Great Harris Papyrus that commemorates several of Ramses III’s successful military campaigns.

The final gallery, An Eternal Life: Death of the Pharaoh, includes tomb fragments, a sarcophagus lid, magical objects and shabtis, which are small human figurines placed inside tombs to work on behalf of the deceased in the afterlife. Highlights include examples from the tombs of Pharaohs Amenhotep II, Seti I, Ramses III and Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings. 

Object Highlights from Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt

Tuthmosis III

Head of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (detail), about 1479–1425 BC. New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Tuthmosis III. Karnak, Thebes, Egypt. Green siltstone; 46 x 19 x 32 cm. British Museum, EA 986. © Trustees of the British Museum, London.

The tall, white crown of Upper Egypt and the rearing cobra indicate that the model for this sculpture was a king. The facial features identify him as Tuthmosis III: almond-shaped eyes, with lids and brows treated in volume, a slightly aquiline nose and a soft, almost smiling expression.

Seti 1
Seti 2

Seated statue of Pharaoh Seti II, about 1200–1194 BC. New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, reign of Seti II. Temple of Mut, Karnak, Thebes, Egypt. Quartzite sandstone; 164 x 49 x 85 cm. British Museum, EA 26. © Trustees of the British Museum, London.

This statue of Seti II is one of the most interesting pieces in the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, from British consul Henry Salt’s Egyptian collection. Meant as an offering to the god Amun-Ra, the statue depicts the pharaoh holding on his knees a small pedestal surmounted by the god’s emblem, a ram’s head. Amun-Ra was at once a dynastic and a solar god, whose main temple was located in Thebes (modern Luxor), at Karnak.


Figurine 1
Figurine 2

Figurine of the god Amun-Ra, about 1069–715 BC. Third Intermediate Period. Karnak, Thebes, Egypt. Gilded silver; 24 x 5 x 10 cm. British Museum, EA 60006. © Trustees of the British Museum, London. 

This small statue, in gold and silver, represents the god Amun-Ra. The precious materials used here suggest that it was meant as a cult statue, or perhaps a votive statue. It would have been kept in a small shrine whose doors, called “the gates of the sky,” were opened every morning in order to wash and “feed” the statue.



Shabti of Pharaoh Seti I, about 1294–1279 BC. New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, reign of Seti I. Tomb of Seti I, Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt. Egyptian blue faience; 22.8 x 9.6 x 9.6 cm. British Museum, EA 22818. © Trustees of the British Museum, London.

In the realm of the dead, small figurines called shabtis worked for the deceased. Initially shabtis represented the deceased’s double, taking his place and performing his duties. They were later conceived as servants, wearing the insignia of their master, as shown on royal shabtis. This beautiful example in Egyptian blue faience is from the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I. The shabti wears the royal headcloth, or nemes, with a uraeus – a representation of a sacred serpent that served as an emblem of supreme power – at the brow. 

The presentation of Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt is a collaboration between the British Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition in Cleveland is made possible by Baker Hostetler, with additional support from the Selz Foundation. Presenting Centennial Sponsor, Key Bank. Supporting Centennial Sponsor, Eaton. Media Sponsor, Cleveland Magazine. 

Tickets for Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt are $15 for adults; seniors and college students $13; children ages 6–17 $7; children 5 and under free. Museum members free; member guests $7.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 180-page, fully illustrated scholarly catalogue, Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt, published by the Cleveland Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. Contributing authors include Marie Vandenbeusch, project curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum, London; Aude Semat, guest curator of the exhibition in Cleveland and lecturer in Egyptology at the École du Louvre, Paris; and Margaret Maitland, curator of the Ancient Mediterranean collections at the National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh. 

Complementary Exhibition: Pyramids & Sphinxes  

Pyramids & Sphinxes is on view now through May 24, 2016 in the Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery. This mixed-media exhibition explores how European artists of the 19th century used brush, paint and camera to document tombs, temples, fallen colossi and other monuments that symbolized a once glorious, now vanished empire. Pyramids & Sphinxes includes the museum’s recent acquisition of the stunning Temple of Edfu: The Door of the Pylon by John Frederick Lewis (British, 1805–1876), a great master of Victorian English watercolor. 

Programming Highlights

Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt is accompanied by a robust schedule of related programming. For more information and updates, please visit

Lectures and Talks

Lecture: The Pharaohs of Anubis-Mountain: New Discoveries in an Ancient Royal Necropolis
Sat/Apr 16, 2:00.
Excavations at Abydos in southern Egypt have recently identified a previously unknown royal necropolis located beneath a sacred desert peak, Anubis-Mountain. Investigations by archaeologists from the Penn Museum have centered on the tombs of pharaohs from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period (c. 1850–1550 BCE). The kings of Anubis-Mountain include several featured in Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt, such as the great king of Dynasty 12, Senusret III, whose royal tomb is one of Egypt’s largest. Discoveries during the past two years include the tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh, Senebkay. New evidence also shows that a line of three brother kings – Neferhotep I, Sobekhotep IV and Sahathor – built tombs here. Dr. Josef Wegner discusses work just completed in January 2016, the tombs of the 12 pharaohs known so far, and what may yet lie in store at the royal necropolis of Anubis-Mountain.

Josef Wegner is associate professor of Egyptian archaeology in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and associate curator in the Egyptian Section of the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He has directed excavations at the mortuary complex and settlement site dedicated to Senusret III at South Abydos since 1994.

Free, reservations recommended. Reserve online at or by calling the Ticket Office at 216-421-7350.

Special Events

MIX: Pharaoh  Fri/Apr 1, 5:00–10:00. 
Explore the blockbuster exhibition Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt and enjoy a pop-up restaurant by Provenance in the atrium with Egyptian-inspired cuisine. 

Tickets $15, CMA members free. Ticket includes admission to Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt.

MIX is an 18-and-over event. Reservations recommended.


Second Sundays: Egyptian Excursion Sun/Mar 13, 11:00–4:00. 

Let your creativity and the museum’s collection serve as your guides through ancient Egypt. Bring your family to the Cleveland Museum of Art on the second Sunday of every month for a variety of family-friendly activities, including art making, Art Stories, Art Cart, scavenger hunts and more. 

Art Together: Ceramics Workshop, Sun/Apr 17, 1:00–3:30.  

Art Together workshops are about families making, sharing and having fun together in the galleries and the studio. Ancient Egyptian ceramics from the exhibition Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt and our collection will provide inspiration for our own hand-built animal sculptures.  We’ll also have a chance to experiment with designing hieroglyphs and glazing them on clay disks. Clay pieces will be fired in the museum’s kiln and will be ready for pick-up within three weeks. Adult/child pair $36, CMA members $30; each additional person $10. Member registration March 1, nonmembers March 15.

Performing Arts

Concert: Amir ElSaffar’s Rivers of Sound Fri/Apr 15, 7:30–9:30. 

Using resonance as its governing principle, ElSaffar’s 17-member ensemble combines elements of maqam modal music of the Middle East with American jazz and other contemporary styles to create a unique microtonal musical environment. 

$33–$45, CMA members $30–40. 

Concert: Tarek Abdallah and Adel Shams El-Din Wed/Apr 27, 7:30–9:30.

The duo presents an evening of classical Egyptian music for oud and riqq (Arabic tambourine). Abdallah draws his inspiration from the golden age of the art of Egyptian oud solo; El-Din’s exceptional technique, exquisite sound and vast knowledge of rhythmic cycles, from Middle Eastern music to jazz and flamenco, make him the most sought-after riqq player on the international stage today.

$33–$45, CMA members $30–$40.

School Visits 

Tue–Fri/Mar 22–May 27, 10:00–11:00. 

Guided tours are available for school groups on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; groups may self-guide through the exhibition on Wednesdays. Pre-registration required; visit


Each film $10; CMA members, seniors 65 & over, students $8. Shown in Morley Lecture Hall.

The Loves of Pharaoh Wed/May 4, 7:00. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. With Emil Jannings. Lubitsch’s last film before immigrating to Hollywood was the most expensive German film up to that time. The great Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh, The Blue Angel) plays Pharaoh Amenes, who rejects a peace offering given to him by the King of Ethiopia—his daughter’s hand in marriage—preferring the princess’s Greek slave instead. This recent restoration includes a new recording of Eduard Künneke’s original orchestral score. Cleveland revival premiere. (Germany, 1922, silent with English titles and music track, color-tinted b&w, Blu-ray, 100 min.) Presented in cooperation with ALPHA-OMEGA digital GmbH and Gartenberg Media Enterprises, Inc.

The Egyptian Wed/May 11, 6:30. Directed by Michael Curtiz. With Edmund Purdom, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature and Gene Tierney. This early CinemaScope epic tells of a physician in ancient Egypt who gets a position in the court of Pharaoh Akhenaten—a mixed blessing. 35mm print from the Twentieth Century Fox studio archive. (USA, 1954, color, 35mm, 140 min.) Special thanks to Barbara Crandall.

Land of the Pharaohs Wed/May 18, 7:00. Directed by Howard Hawks. With Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins. William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay for this entertaining historical epic about the building of the Great Pyramid. Scope print! (USA, 1955, color, 35mm, 106 min.)

The Prince of Egypt Wed/May 25, 7:00. Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells. With the voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock et al. This animated version of the life of Moses features an all-star voice cast and songs by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Wicked), including the Oscar-winning “When You Believe.” (USA, 1998, color, 35mm, 97 min.)

Centennial Celebration

One hundred years ago the Cleveland Museum of Art opened its doors to the public. In 2016 the museum invites all audiences to celebrate its 100th anniversary, honoring the past and looking ahead to the future. Program highlights include special centennial exhibitions representing the creative genius of four continents, spanning ancient to contemporary art, as well as the presentation of extraordinary individual works of art on loan from top-tier institutions all over the world, and once-in-a-lifetime events and community programs.

For more information about centennial year events, visit

Contact the Museum's Media Relations Team:
(216) 707-2261