When Alexander the Great conquered Ancient Egypt he became yet another in the long line of Greeks who were stunned by the country and its rich culture. Alexander’s general, Ptolemy, was sent to Egypt to rule. Ptolemy found it wise to adapt to the much older culture. He called himself “Pharaoh,” built the new capital, Alexandria and managed to unite the two different religions and form the new deity, Zeus Amon. The Ptolemaic period had begun, only to end with Queen Cleopatra’s suicide in 30 B.C., after 300 years of Greek rule.
The Art Institute of Chicago is organizing an exhibition entitled When the Greeks Ruled Egypt, to highlight the confluence of all cultures that had reigned in the area – Greek and later Roman – as well as the exchange of artistic, social and religious ideas they had with the ancient civilization through more than 75 pieces of artwork. The artworks include gilded mummy masks, magical amulets, luxury masks and portraits in stone and precious metals.
The exhibition begins with a series of remarkable works created before the arrival of Alexander the Great from Ancient Greece to Ancient Egypt. Egyptians believed in an afterlife which depicts life on earth. Glassmakers, painters, sculptors, goldsmiths and architects were creating items to serve the Egyptians in the afterlife.
Some artworks show vegetables, meat, vessels full of libation and a list of linen to ensure the deceased abundance in the afterlife. Also found in the Egyptian tombs were figurines like the Ushabti of Nebseni which were thought to act as loyal servants and provide protection to the deceased.
The exhibition moves to the intermingling of artistic traditions during the reign of Alexander the great and his successor in the area, Ptolemy. The exhibition focuses on the mingling of the two artistic traditions with artifacts that embody the Greek and the Roman interest in naturalism with Egyptian practices.
The exhibition also includes artifacts that belong to the Roman period which began after the defeat and the suicide of Queen Cleopatra.