Sarcophagi: Under the Stars of Nut

The Cinquantenaire has really outdone itself with this exhibit.

Cinquantenaire Museum Belgium Sarcophagi exhibit
Sarcophagi: Under the Stars of Nut exhibit at Cinquantenaire Museum, Belgium, January 10, 2016 (Hilde Heyvaert)

As the title suggests, Sarcophagi: Under the Stars of Nut focuses on the burial rites and graves of Ancient Egypt.

The Cinquantenaire Museum does a great job setting up this lovely exhibit, chronologically and clearly presenting sarcophagi, mummies (both human and animal), ushabti (little statues representing the workforce for the deceased) and other funerary objects, such as death masks, across twelve rooms, each representing an hour of the night through which Osiris moves through the underworld so the sun may rise again.

Strangely, even though the museum does its best to provide information about the many objects on display, there is no mention whatsoever of the cultural and mythological significance of these twelve hours of night, nor of Osiris’ fight with Seth.

That aside, it really is a beautiful and varied exhibit, very well set up, making you stop in surprise at beautiful pieces that literally wait around every corner.

The exhibit includes enlarged (poster-sized) monochrome photos from the early 1900s to the 1960s to show you how Egyptian archaeological sites looked in those days, when archaeology often resembled sanctioned tomb-raiding for museums and well-off collectors alike.

Everything is set up in such a way that objects can be admired from almost every angle. As far as the visual design and setup are concerned, the Cinquantenaire really outdid itself here. The presentation is pretty flawless.

They even tried to incorporate bits and pieces for children, with crafts and game sheets spread throughout, and conveniently added to the website in case you want to get more (or missed some).

The only mark against the exhibit is language. Belgium officially has three languages: Dutch, French and German, however, German was absent. And while the website and most promotional materials are in English, not all texts were available in English. We didn’t have an audio guide, so maybe those are available in English, but that’s not something that we can confirm. If you don’t speak Dutch or French, you may want to check beforehand.

They saved one of the most amazing parts for last: a live restoration lab, set up in a special see-through chamber, of the Instituto Europeo del Restauro, who are working on restoring ten sarcophagi and mummy planks from the Second Cache of Deir el-Bahari that are part of the collections of the Cinquantenaire Museum.

If you are interested in the funerary culture of Ancient Egypt, definitely check this out if you can. Especially considering as the majority of pieces on display have not been showed to the public before.

Seeing you need several hours to see all of it, it’s best to visit early in the day. If you want to grab some food at the museum restaurant, make sure to eat before 3:30 PM. They only serve drinks and desserts afterward.

For ticket prices and more information, check the official website. For more photos of the exhibit, click here.

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