Soft, classical tunes filled the evening air at the open court of the Mamluk-era Al-Amir Taz palace, as light, winter breeze frisked the dimly-lit trees. The atmosphere was serene and enchanting at of the grand opening of the Coptic Art Revealed exhibition, celebrating the centennial of the Coptic Art Museum. Founded in 1910 by an influential Copt, Marcus Pasha Simaika, the museum was built next to the famous Hanging Church in Old Cairo. The Museum was renovated by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and was reopened in 2006.
The exhibition displays 205 objects that were put in a dramatic-themed setting, revealing the splendour of Coptic art and shedding light on Copts’ outstanding contribution to Egypt’s divers and rich heritage. The exhibition takes guests on a voyage back to early Christianity, when the holy family fled to Egypt. It also shows how this new religion survived among other old religions, illustrating the overlap of Pharaonic, Craeco-Roman and early Christian motifs.
One of the most remarkable features 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 early years of Christianity, dating back to the Roman Empire and their persecution of Egyptian Christians, are a major part of the exhibition. As such, the creation of monasticism and the establishment of monasteries in Egypt are also highlighted in the display. Sacred places and biblical stories that played a crucial role in the life of the faithful are presented, as are the Coptic Divine Liturgy, which is the oldest celebrated religious service in the world.
In addition, objects of daily life, decorated with beautiful and fine motifs, are also on display. 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 as well the nation’s unity as it is a Coptic exhibition in an Islamic monument,” Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told reporters, adding that the exhibition celebrates Coptic art as a part of the long and proud tradition that left an indelible mark on the pages of the world history. According to Hosni, the exhibition also brings to life a facet of the timeless personality of the people of the Nile.
Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA, said that the exhibition will last for two months and will be sent abroad to Austria and Germany to shed light on Egypt of Late Antiquity.
Nadja Tomoum, the exhibition creator and director, said that objects displayed were carefully selected from several museum collections in Egypt. They included 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 Civilization in Fustat and the Museum of Islamic Art in Babul Khalq. Items from the National Museum, the Graeco-Roman Museum and the Museum of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria were also selected, as were several items from the Beni-Suef and Al-Arish museums.
Among the attendees of the exhibition were Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, and well-known Egyptian actor Omar El-Sherif, who were very delighted with the show.