Just as people have tried to wipe away the remains of religion in the world, the Romans tried to wipe Cleopatra VII’s legacy as the last pharaoh of Egypt from history – without success. Now, the public can take a trip back in time to experience Cleopatra’s life through the Milwaukee Public Museum’s exhibit, “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt,” comprised of nearly 150 artifacts displayed in eight galleries, which opened to the public Oct. 14 and is scheduled through April 29, 2012.
“The story behind Cleopatra has captivated the hearts of people for decades and the main reason is that I guess it is a great story and that’s what attracted us to doing this exhibition,” said John Norman, president of Arts and Exhibitions International (AEI), whose experience with exhibitions includes “Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes,” “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” and “Diana: A Celebration.”
“…but what it really comes down to (is) that there’s a lot left to learn about Cleopatra – her political motives, how she died, where she was buried and even what she looked like. So, together with National Geographic, we set out to create an exhibition in a new and exciting way.”
While visitors to the museum at 800 W. Wells St., Milwaukee, will not find the queen’s remains – though the head archaeologists believe they are getting closer to solving this mystery – they will experience an exhibit that Norman described to members of the media in an Oct. 13 preview as “unique” in the way the ancient objects are used to tell a modern-day story, and “innovative,” in the way it’s presented.
Step back in time 2,000 years
Seventeen high definition video screens deliver content to visitors as they walk through the eight galleries. The drums and Egyptian sound of the music, composed for each gallery, and the dimmed lights and rich colors take visitors back more than 2,000 years to experience Cleopatra’s time. Each visitor is invited to take a complimentary personal audio tour in which Cleopatra’s voice walks them through the exhibit as they learn about her life and the artifacts displayed. Gold, silver and bronze coins; marble, diorite and red granite statues; a limestone incense burner, bronze fishhook, ceramic bowl and lead mirror are among the objects encased throughout the exhibit found in ongoing explorations.
“The real exciting aspect to us is that as each new artifact from her world is unearthed, it could be the one that holds the answers to the mystery surrounding her life,” Norman said, highlighting the two people who’ve uncovered the nearly 30 tons of artifacts that make up the exhibit in their parallel searches on land and in the sea: Archaeologist Zahi Hawass, Former Minister of State for Antiquities in Egypt, is leading the land search, which began in 2005, there for Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s tomb, and French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, founder and director of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), is leading an underwater excavation in the Mediterranean Sea.
“We have now a very clear idea of how it looks like in those cities and, of course, underwater, and above water now, we can admire the beautiful artifacts which once spoke about the glory of the time of Cleopatra,” said Goddio, who was in town for the opening of the exhibit.
Cleopatra anointed pharaoh at 17
According to information displayed in the exhibit and from the museum’s press kit, visitors learned Cleopatra, who lived from 69 to 30 B.C., was an intelligent queen, anointed a pharaoh at age 17. During her two-decade rule, often shared with male members in her family, Cleopatra sought to rule the world, seeking partnership to secure her power and country, first through Roman ruler Julius Caesar and then key Roman political and military leader Mark Antony – two of the most powerful men of the time. Cleopatra is said to have taken her life in 30 B.C. after Antony took his life following defeat by Caesar’s heir, which marked the beginning of Roman rule of Egypt and the end of the Ptolemaic Kingdom.
After watching a four-minute introductory video introducing Hawass and Goddio, the screen lifted to reveal the entrance of the exhibit. Viewers are introduced to an illuminated statue of a Ptolemaic queen – possibly Cleopatra – the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt for about 275 years beginning in 305 B.C.
|Visit the exhibit, “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt”
at the Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 W. Wells St.,
Milwaukee, through April 29, 2012.
Hours: (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day; also closed
Tickets: Weekdays/weekends: $27.50/$29.50 adults; $23.50/$25.50 seniors
For information or tickets for the related IMAX feature, “Mysteries of Egypt,”
Visitors can read archaeologists’ quotes printed on the walls leading to gallery two, where a walkway with clear floors showcases artifacts positioned in sand below that Goddio recovered in his ongoing underwater explorations, begun in 1992, off the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. As visitors make their way to the site of the ruins of ancient Alexandria, the sunken capital and center of Cleopatra’s empire, destroyed by earthquakes and a tsunami, they will see a granodiorite monument dated to 378-361 B.C., “Naos of the Decades,” which may contain engravings of the world’s first astrological chart.
The third gallery boasts the submerged city of Canopus, dubbed the “city of sin, city of God,” because it was a place to relax and have fun as well as a religious center. As a city of religious pilgrimage, the gallery featuring Canopus showcases representations of the god of afterlife, Osiris, and gold coins and jewelry that illustrate its more entertaining side.
Hard to miss in the fourth gallery are the looming 16-foot statues of a Ptolemaic king and queen from the Temple of Amon where pharaohs were crowned at Heracleion, the city that was the center
of religion, a gateway to Egypt with its intricate network of canals and Egypt’s first line of defense against foreign invasion.
Some objects reflect everyday life
As visitors continue their journey to ancient Alexandria, the capital of the ancient world where Cleopatra’s palace once stood, they will see objects that “reflect everyday life in Ptolemaic Egypt,” including a ceramic oil lamp, baby’s feeding bottle, limestone headrest and other household items made from practical and affordable metals like lead and bronze. They’ll learn that the architecture and statuary of the city of about 500,000 people, gave it a more Greek than Egyptian look, and that Cleopatra, who was educated to the same level as her brother, wrote books and was a linguist – the first of the Ptolemies to master ancient Egyptian. This gallery also features the large granodiorite “Caesarion Colossal Head,” of “Little Caesar,” Cleopatra and Julius Caesar’s son.
Continue to the sixth gallery and visitors can see “The Beauty of Cleopatra” through a large, headless statue of the goddess Isis or queen, and a papyrus document granting tax exemption from imported wine sales believed to contain Cleopatra’s handwriting.
Nearing the end of the exhibit, visitors will visit the temple complex at Taposiris Magna, about 30 miles west of Alexandria, and the site that Hawass continues to search for Cleopatra and Antony’s tomb.
Archaeologists search for ‘last queen of Egypt’
Leaving the exhibit, visitors will see the many presentations of the queen throughout the years of paintings and films, but will be left to wonder as the archaeologists continue to search for the “real last queen of Egypt.”
The exhibition, organized by National Geographic and Arts & Exhibitions International, with cooperation from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, makes its third stop on its world tour, but its first in the United States.