“Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III & His World,” at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.
October 24, 1992 - January 31, 1993

It is always a treat to go to the Kimbell Art Museum. The elegant museum building, designed by Louis Kahn in the late 1960s, is one of the triumphs of modern architecture. And its breathtaking collection, consummately assembled by Richard Brown, the Kimbell’s first director, and expanded by the current director, Edmund Pillsbury, is a study in connoisseurship and exacting taste. The Kimbell’s collection is small, but almost every object is of the highest aesthetic quality. Under Mr. Pillsbury’s direction, the Kimbell has increased its roster of traveling exhibitions, and these, too, have been planned and executed with great scrupulousness.

The current offering, a collection of 140 objects from Egypt’s Golden Age (c. 1400-1300 B.C.), is no exception. The impressive stone sculptures—including several extraordinary monumental sculptures of animals and busts of the Egyptian ruler Amenhotep III—are perfectly set off by the Kimbell’s travertine-lined galleries. Amenhotep III, the father of Akhenaten and grandfather of Tutankhamen, presided over a great and exceptionally prosperous empire. Like so much of Egyptian culture at the time, many of the works on view here were constructed as monuments to the ruler’s glory. The effect is stunning, but for a modern spectator the panoply of magnificent ruins cannot but seem like illustrations for Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” The “shattered visage,” the broken arrogance, the surviving awe—all are recapitulated many times over here: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”

But this exhibition also reminds us that classical Egypt’s cultural achievement had other, quieter dimensions. There are dozens of small, exquisitely worked objets—spoons, combs, statuettes, perfume bottles, and other vessels—on view as well. Some of them—particularly some of private statuary in wood—are almost painfully sensuous. Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, this remarkable exhibition will travel to the Grand Palais in Paris this March. It is accompanied by an excellent catalogue, written by several hands, and published by the Cleveland Museum of Art in cooperation with the Indiana University Press.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 11 Number 5, on page 52
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