'Twilight of the Pharaohs': A 'Must See' Exhibit in Paris

| 04.27.12

Egyptology and antiquity fans won't want to miss this displayed collection of precious treasures in Paris.

Paris, FRANCE -- A jewel-box mansion in the middle of Paris holds a surprising exhibition that brings together, for the first time ever, precious treasures from the last period of the Egyptian Pharaonic dynasties.

It was here we met visiting Americans cruising through Paris on the Seine [available with Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways and CroisiEurope, to name a few].  They used a tour day in Paris to visit the exhibition.

The Twilight of the Pharaohs, Masterpieces from the last Egyptian Dynasties”, is an assortment of the world’s finest sculptures, reliefs, sarcophagi, death masks, items of worship and jewelry from tombs and temples.

It also refutes the previously accepted academic assumption that there was a decline in the artistic output at the end of the Egyptian Pharaonic dynasties.

What are your thoughts on this new exhibit? Discuss it here.

These masterpieces, on display until mid-July in the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris, date from the last thousand years of Pharaonic history (1069-30 BC).  The museum is an exquisite 19th century mansion, the former private residence of art connoisseurs Nélie Jacquemart and Edouard André.

The curator of the exhibition, Mr. Oliver Mr. Perdu, an Egyptologist from the College de France and a renowned specialist in the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, took seven years to select and collect the pieces for the exhibit.

Mr. Perdu, whose name ironically means “lost” in French, has spent his lifetime searching for and finding lost rare Egyptian works of art.

“It is very important that we surprise the public with this exhibition,” Mr. Perdu told us. “And the surprise is that, although the end of the Ramses period was marked by invasions, the exhibit proves that the period did not go directly into decline, as previously thought.”

Never before have these Pharaonic artifacts – so exquisite and so rare – been assembled under one roof.  The international collections of Egyptian antiquities are on loan from museums and the hitherto unseen treasures of private collections.


The 100 masterpieces recount the rich artistic genius in Egypt during the ten centuries of invasions and influence by Libyan, Nubian, Persian, Greek and Roman occupations, prior to the Greek conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. 

Although an unstable period militarily and politically, Egyptian art flourished under these foreign rulers, and now is viewed as a period of artistic revival.

One such example is a rare alabaster female figurine from the Louvre, which Mr. Perdu said he discovered “badly stocked” in the belly of the museum.  The statue revealed its beauty and rarity when cleaned, and “will now become part of their permanent display.”

Mr. Perdu has collected many of the period’s stunning masterpieces, such as the gold statuette of Amun.  “The statue is one of the largest effigies in solid gold ever found in Egypt,” said the curator.  “It is small but exquisitely detailed, and under the stand are three tiny columns of hieroglyphics.  This piece was accidently found while digging through the rubbish heap in the temple of Heracleopolis, south of Fayoum.”


Also present is the feline effigy of the god Bastet, known worldwide as the ‘Gayer Anderson Cat’, which Mr. Perdu is proud to point out “has never before left the British Museum.

“Many items in this exposition are on loan and many were previously unknown pieces from American and European private collections.”

Private collectors are generally happy to lend them to museums, said Mr. Perdu, “especially if we know them and have a relationship with them.”


Perhaps the most fascinating story of acquiring an item revolves around one of the three statues at the entrance of the museum.  They are kneeling “duplicate” statues of Nakhthorheb, an important figure from the court of Psammetichus II. 

One comes from the Louvre, one from the British museum, and the third from a private collection, which was lost to Egyptologists.  “We knew the third piece existed, but we didn’t know where it was.”

Here’s where the story takes a strange twist:  A friend of Mr. Perdu was reading a book about a person’s memoirs, which had nothing to do with Egypt.  In it, however, was a curious reference of something in the house of a certain wealthy family.

“We began to investigate and eventually found that the third statue belonged to a noteworthy family that likes to acquire paintings, but not statues.  Our next task was to try to find out which part of the family it belonged to there.”

This was a difficult task, said Mr. Perdu, because “the family didn’t want to reveal any details about themselves or highlight themselves in any way.

“It was long, hard work.  And, when we discovered who in the family had the third statue, we asked if they would loan it to us for the exhibition.  They were very reluctant because they didn’t want to draw any attention to their collection.  It took a lot of work and over one year of discussions, but we finally got it.”

Getting museums to loan their treasures was a far less arduous task.   “All the museums spoiled us.  They gave us their beautiful pieces.  Usually one gets about one-third of what they ask to be loaned, but we got almost everything we wanted,” said the Egyptologist.

The most popular display in the exhibition, says Mr. Perdu, is the “Portrait Gallery”, the depiction of faces by Egyptian sculptures.  These include rounded juvenile features and, unique to this period in Egyptian Pharaonic history, older faces with realistic wrinkles and lines.

“These are some of the most exquisite pieces in the exhibition, the ‘chefs d’oeuvres’ of the ‘chefs d’oeuvres’, said Mr. Perdu.  “Their faces are very expressive; some have smiles on their faces.  They are masterpieces; just imagine how the complete statue must have looked.”   

Included here is the renowned “Green Head” from Berlin, an undisputed masterpiece of Egyptian art.


As for the broken noses on many of the statues, there are many legends and theories, including that they were knocked off by invaders, or by those who wished to defeat or harm the individual represented.

Not so, says the expert, Mr. Perdu: When a statue falls forward, the nose is the first point to hit the ground. Broken noses are also found on ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, and Southeast Asian statues.

“Egyptologists are reassured that they have found a ‘genuine item’ when they find a statue with a broken nose, as they [see] it as a sign of being an original,” said Mr. Perdu.  “Through time the earth shifts and the statues usually fell over – face forward – their noses are the most fragile and break upon impact.”

Twilight of the Pharaohs is an absolute must-see, and is an opportunity to discover one of Paris’ most charming museums.  While there, also be sure to have lunch or tea in the mansion’s former dining room, the Jacquemart-Andre café is one of the most beautiful settings for brunch in Paris.


What are your thoughts on this new exhibit? Discuss it here.

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