The Royal Ontario Museum Brings the Book of the Dead Back to Life

The Royal Ontario Museum Brings the Book of the Dead Back to Life
Book of the Dead of Amen em hat 

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) launches Egypt Month at the ROM on February 28, 2009 by inviting visitors to journey into the afterlife with its newest exhibit Out of the Vaults: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. The recently conserved Book of the Dead of Amen-em-hat, seen in its full beauty for the first time in over 2,300 years, contains a collection of hymns, spells and instructions for the after-life. Part of the ongoing Out of the Vaults series that brings notable objects on view for a limited time, the iconic Book of the Dead, and rarely seen Egyptian artifacts from the ROM’s collection, will be displayed on the Third Floor, Centre Block until Sunday, May 10, 2009. For the entire month of March, families will also enjoy a special line-up of Egypt-related hands-on activities every weekend and during March Break (March 14 to 22, 2009).

“This is the very first time this captivating document will be on public view since its pieces were brought together during a lengthy conservation process at the Museum,” said Krzys Grzymski, Curator, Egypt and Nubia, at the ROM. “The ROM’s Book of the Dead is probably the finest of its kind in the world for its date and will be a true highlight of Egypt Month.”

Out of the Vaults: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead
The ROM’s seven metre-long scroll is an ancient Egyptian funerary text dating back to 320 B.C., the early Ptolemaic period. Written on papyrus and containing four coloured vignettes and many elegant line drawings, the lavish and beautifully executed book was acquired by Charles Trick Currelly, the ROM’s first Director, in Egypt in the early 20th century. Its iconography suggests that it came from Thebes (modern Luxor) and was written for a wealthy man named Amen-em-hat. Though a section of the papyrus had been on display in the Egyptian gallery for many years, it was not until 2006 that Dr. Irmtraut Munro, the director of a project established at the University of Bonn in Germany to catalogue all world-wide Books of the Dead, recognized that a rolled up scroll in storage was part of the same text. The scroll was so delicate that its outer layer had fragmented into countless pieces. This lead to a lengthy conservation process to restore much of the book to its former splendour.

The Book of the Dead of Amen-em-hat will be displayed with a collectoin of over 130 rarely seen Egyptian artifacts, some displayed for the first time, such as coffin masks, amulets used to protect the dead in the after-life, funerary portraits, the head of a stone sarcophagus lid dating from 320 B.C., and a coffin dating back to approximately 960 B.C., belonging to a woman of the priestly class. Visitors will also see a mummified child from Roman times with a shroud depicting traditional Egyptian images, such as the god of embalming, Anubis, as well as shawabtis, small statues that represent servants who were assigned the hard work of farming and construction for people in the after-life. Seven of the shawabtis to be displayed are royal, having belonged to Nubian kings, including the great Taharka, who also ruled Egypt.

The Book of the Dead
Books of the Dead were produced in Egypt between the New Kingdom, approximately 1500 BC, and the early Roman period. The best and most expensive were filled with beautiful illustrations. These texts were commissioned by the individual and his or her family to ensure a safe passage through the Underworld.

Egyptians sought protection against difficulties in earthly life and the uncertainties of the afterlife by providing the dead with magical spells, charms and amulets. After mummification, the heart, unlike other internal organs, was left inside the chest cavity. Egyptians believed that while travelling through the Underworld, the deceased eventually reached the Hall of Judgment, where the heart was placed on the scale of judgment, counterbalanced by a feather, the emblem of Maat, goddess of truth and justice. If the heart failed the judgment, it would be devoured by a monster, but if the deceased had lead a good life, and the heart balanced Maat on the scale, he or she would be granted eternal life. A beautifully illustrated scene in the Hall of Judgment is depicted in the ROM’s Book of the Dead of Amen-em-hat.
Art Daily, Maine
Feb 15, 2009

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