The Museumsinsel Berlin (Museum Island Berlin) is home to one of the most outstanding collections in the world of ancient Egyptian civilization. The objects of the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection were created between the fourth millennium BC and late antiquity. They include master works of Egyptian art from the spheres of sculpture, relief, architecture, minor arts, and papyri, and are exhibited in the Neues Museum. One of the highlights of the collection, the bust of Queen Nefertiti, is also on exhibit there. In the future, monumental works of ancient Egyptian architecture will be on display in the fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum.
Exhibition in the Neues Museum since 2009
Besides outstanding sculptures and reliefs, the Egyptian Museum features a worldwide unique collection of works of art from the time of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Since 2009 the collection has been splendidly exhibited in the rebuilt Neues Museum. On three floors the museum presents art and culture from the empire of the Pharaohs. The works of art and archaeological objects are complemented by papyrus manuscripts spanning four millennia. The Sudan section establishes a link to the arts and cultures of Africa.
In the Future: Egyptian Art in the Pergamonmuseum
In the future, all monumental architecture of ancient Egypt that is currently still on exhibit in Charlottenburg will be presented in the new fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum. It will become part of the Ancient Architectures Tour which combines several collections. In the fourth wing, various architectural elements will give visitors an impression of the structure of an Egyptian temple. These elements include the Kalabsha Gate and a partial reconstruction of the colonnade courtyard of the Sahu-Rê temple.
The origins of the Egyptian collection date back to the 17th century. It was then that the first Aegyptiaca were purchased. The 19th century witnessed a steady growth in the collection. This was mainly due to various acquisitions such as the purchase of the Minutoli (1823) and Passalacqua (1827) collections. The well-known Lepsius expedition also contributed to expanding the collection. From 1850 onward the Egyptian collection was presented to the public in the Neues Museum. The large-scale excavations in Egypt, including those in Abusir and Tell el-Amarna, began around 1900. Many works of art came to Berlin as its share in the division of the finds. The Egyptian collection was evacuated to various places during World War II, and later exhibited in the Bode-Museum and in Charlottenburg. After German reunification, the collections eventually became reunited again. The collection was exhibited in the Altes Museum in 2005. In 2009, it returned to its original location in the Neues Museum.
All over the world, the portrait bust of Queen Nefertiti is viewed as the epitome of ancient Egyptian art. The bust was discovered in 1912 in Amarna in central Egypt in the course of a German excavation which was funded by James Simon, the great patron of the arts. When the finds were divided up, the bust came to Berlin. Due to its timeless beauty, the portrait bust is a link between antiquity and the present. In 2005 it moved from Charlottenburg to the Museum Island together with the Egyptian collection. It was first exhibited in the Altes Museum. Since 2009 the bust of Nefertiti has been shown in the Neues Museum again, where it has been given a place of honor in the North Dome Room.
The fascinating portrait head of Queen Teje looks intriguingly realistic. Teje was the wife of Pharaoh Amenophis III who ruled from 1388 to 1351 BC. During his reign, Egypt reached the zenith of its power. The open-minded spirit of that epoch becomes apparent from Amenophis’ choice of wife: Queen Teje came from a commoner family in Achmim. The small statue head shows the queen wearing the headdress of a goddess to which the donned crown belongs. This refers to the extraordinary role played by Teje at the side of her husband.
As illustrated by the objects in the Egyptian Museum, the development of portraiture in ancient Egypt can be traced back to the third millennium BC. The “Berlin Green Head” was created in the last century of ancient Egyptian civilization. It is a highlight of ancient Egyptian sculptural art, and one of the most famous examples of portrait heads from the Late Period.
In the future, Egypt will be included in the unique ensemble of ancient monumental architecture on the Museum Island. The monumental columns and epistyles from the courtyard of King Sahu-Rê’s temple in Abusir will be on exhibit there. The temple was built around 2400 BC. When the finds were divided up following a German excavation headed by Ludwig Borchardt, the objects came to Berlin at the beginning of the 20th century. It was planned to exhibit them in a new building on the Kupfergraben which was, however, never realized. With a delay of one century, the columns from the courtyard of Sahu-Rê’s temple will now find their place on the Museum Island in the fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum.
The Kalabsha Gate will be the monumental entrance to the fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum. The ancient Egyptian temple gate was presented to the Federal Republic of Germany as a gift by Egypt in 1971. It was bestowed out of gratitude for Germany’s participation in the rescue of the Nubian temples threatened by the Aswan Dam. On the relief images of the gate, the pharaoh is seen performing a ritual before the ancient Egyptian gods. According to the hieroglyphic inscriptions, the Pharaoh is the Roman emperor Augustus. Hence, the gate is also a memorial to an ancient east-west dialogue.
The Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, which for the most part is exhibited in the Neues Museum, can be accessed via the historical entrances. Two exhibition rooms will be part of the Archaeological Promenade: in the Greek Courtyard and the Egyptian Courtyard, objects are already exhibited in accordance with the concept of the Promenade. In the future, ancient Egyptian architecture will make the tour on the main level in the new fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum complete. Visitors will be able to reach it either via the historical main entrance of the Pergamonmuseum or via the James-Simon-Galerie which will be directly connected to that entrance.