The exhibition "Senusret III, a Legendary Pharaoh" is the first ever dedicated to this great Egyptian King. It opens on October 9,2014, at the Lille Palais des Beaux Arts, and is the result of a collaboration between the museum, the University of Lille 3, and the Louvre.
Pharaoh Senusret III is one of the most emblematic rulers of Ancient Egypt. Due to his great reputation he became the archetype of the Egyptian monarch among the authors of classical antiquity. At the heart of the Middle Kingdom, his reign (1872-1854 BC.) marked a watershed in the country’s history. In order to enlarge the southern borders of his kingdom, this visionary pharaoh led several expeditions against the great kingdom of Kerma established strong trade and diplomatic relations with his neighbours on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea (now Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Palestine). At the same time, he reformed and reinvented the Egyptian State.
Those radical changes are represented in art through statuary: the surviving sculpted portraits of the pharaoh broke with the tradition. He is sometimes shown with older features, as a symbol of wisdom, sometimes as an idealised young man. Thanks to a propaganda campaign, supported by the Egyptian elite, the pharaoh gained a powerful new image of authority. Other artistic productions (such as jewellery, daily-life objects, funerary artefacts) and the erection of large temples and vast tombs are evidence of the rising fortunes of the Egyptian civilisation. The public will discover the artistic richness of a period considered as one of the golden ages of Ancient Egypt.
Divided into three main sections, the exhibition will present Egypt under Senusret III, a great military leader and political strategist. It unveils the contacts that Senusret III and his successors made with powerful neighbouring countries. The realm of the gods and realm of the dead will be illustrated by royal funerary complexes and by the extremely popular cult of Osiris. This phenomenon goes along with a revival of the elite’s burial practices spread to Egypt’s furthest borders.
The Lille exhibition will bring together about 200 loans from the world’s most important museums, and will also reveal about 100 works from the major Egyptology collection of the University of Lille III, assembled through their own excavations now part of the collection of the Palais des Beaux-Arts. The range of exhibits will throw new light on the impressive fortresses of Nubia, now lost under the waters of Lake Nasser, and will vividly evoke the life of the Ancient Egyptians living on the borders of the kingdom. The exhibition will also highlight the discoveries of the recent archaeological excavations in Egypt (in Dahshur, Abydos and Deir el-Bersha) which have profoundly changed our understanding about of Senusret III’s reign.
As part of the exhibition A Legendary Pharaoh, Senusret III, sculptures by contemporary artists ANTHONY GORLEY and WOLFGANG LAIB, on the theme of the transportation of souls, will be displayed in the atrium of the museum. “Works of transition”, they will invoke the lasting fascination with Ancient Egyptian mythology about the dialogue between the living and the dead, from the mummy to the pyramid. There will also be an exhibition of historical photographs portraying the adventure of archaeological digs from the late 19th to the early 20th century.
This colossal head is part of a series of statues in quartz of Senusret III, of which at least three other examples held in Copenhagen, Hildesheim, and New York are known. From their dimensions, these fragments could come from sitting statues of this same sovereign held at the British Museum, which came from the oriental Delta (Tell Nabasha and Tell el Moqdam). One of these colossal statues had been seized and held by Osorkon II, so it is not certain that they had originally been installed on these sites. The royal statues of the Middle Kingdom were for the most part reutilized and moved numerous times throughout Antiquity.
The quartz, a hard stone used for statues of the highest of the elite, permits, by its regular grain, subtle modelling, without needing to resort to graphic procedures to represent the sovereign’s features. The Kansas City head is certainly one of the most finished examples of the expressive portrait of Senusret III. The long and emaciated face, the prominent cheekbones, the thin and pinched lips with the corners turned down, the protruding eyes tightly fit into thick eyelids, the folds and wrinkles that mark the skin, do not show an old man, tired and worried, but an authoritarian king, terse, majestic, and shrewd. That feeling would have been reinforced by a firm and muscular body, to which this head could have been associated. (Excerpt from the Exhibition catalogue)