Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh

Detail of Sphinx of Hatshepsut on view in Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh

August 27, 2006 to December 31, 2006

Can a queen be a king?  In ancient Egypt she could, as seen in the landmark exhibition “Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh,” which was on view at the Kimbell Art Museum from August 27 to December 31, 2006. This major and spectacular exhibition explored the 20-year reign of Hatshepsut (c. 1479–1458 B.C.), the first great female ruler known to history.

Although less familiar to modern audiences than her much later successor, the notorious Cleopatra (51–30 B.C.), Hatshepsut’s achievements were more significant and place her with the great European queens, like England’s Elizabeth I, in the annals of world history. Ruling first as regent for, then as co-ruler with, her nephew Thutmose III (who ruled for another 33 years after her death), Hatshepsut enjoyed a relatively peaceful reign at the beginning of the New Kingdom. She stabilized the country and restored monuments destroyed during the disruptive Second Intermediate Period, when northern Egypt was controlled by invaders from the Levant (Syria-Palestine). She renewed trade with the Near East, the far-off land of Punt to the south, and the Aegean islands of Greece to the north. The resulting economic prosperity was richly reflected in the art of the time, which is characterized by remarkable innovations in sculpture and decorative arts and which produced such architectural marvels as Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh brought together a vast treasure of royal statuary and relief; sculptures representing members of the royal court; and a wide variety of ceremonial objects, finely crafted furniture, dazzling royal jewelry, and other exquisite personal items that tell the compelling story of Hatshepsut’s reign and reveal the diverse and exquisite artistic production of her time. Works in the exhibition were assembled from major American and European museums, including many works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s extensive holdings of objects excavated by the Met’s Egyptian Expedition in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a group of select loans from Cairo and Luxor in Egypt.

Commented Dr. Timothy Potts, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, “Hatshepsut is perhaps the most intriguing figure in ancient Egyptian history—a queen who attained all the powers, and even the physical trappings, of a pharaoh. As ruler of the most powerful nation on earth, she oversaw an artistic renewal that produced some of the greatest masterpieces of Egyptian art. This exhibition brings us as close as we will ever be to Hatshepsut the woman, the queen, and the pharaoh.”

The exhibition was organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, and by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, Federal agencies.

Born in the 15th century B.C., Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I and Ahmose,
assumed the throne after her half-brother/husband died, her nephew/stepson Thutmose not yet being of an age to rule. As a woman in nominal control of the most powerful civilization in the world, Hatshepsut had many obstacles to overcome. There was always a threat of revolt, especially as her nephew came of age and could be manipulated by powerful cliques at court. But she managed to keep these challenges at bay. Using artistic propaganda and keen political skills, after six years as regent for Thutmose III, Hatshepsut became the “king” in statuary and other official art for the remaining 15 years of her rule. She even dressed in the traditional garb of male pharaohs.

Hatshepsut was clearly an able politician, and an elegant stateswoman whose intelligence and charisma allowed her to maintain firm control of Egypt in a period when other major states were emerging in the Near East to her north and east. During her reign the country prospered, the arts flourished, and peace prevailed. For reasons that are not
completely understood—but perhaps because the idea of female rulership offended the conservative priesthood and other powerful factions—her reign was erased from Egyptian history not long after her death.

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh examined the phenomenon of Hatshepsut as a female pharaoh and the effects of her reign on Egyptian history, culture, and the astonishingly creative artistic output of the time. The exhibition traced the history of her reign, including the main characters of her family and inner circle, through the court and funerary art that has survived. Particular attention was given to statuary of the royal steward Senenmut, the most powerful man in Egypt, who oversaw Hatshepsut’s estates when she was queen, was tutor to her daughter Neferure, and served as the overseer of the estates of Amun, then the chief god in the Egyptian pantheon. Of all the members of Hatshepsut’s court, Senenmut was the most powerful, the best known, and most often represented. Among the many sculpted images of him, one of the most exquisite and beautifully preserved is in the Kimbell’s own collection.

The exhibition featured a number of monumental statues of Hatshepsut herself,
including images of her as a female ruler, as a masculine king, and as a sphinx. In fact, one of only two statues of Hatshepsut from Deir el-Bahri (the site of her mortuary temple), in which her dress style and adornment depict her as female royalty, was on view at the Kimbell. Numerous objects that belonged to courtiers and other elites during the rule of Hatshepsut were also presented, including elegant stone vessels, lavish gold jewelry, and furniture.

A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, is available in the Museum Shop ($65 hardcover; $45 softcover). It is edited by Catharine H. Roehrig, Curator in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York; Renée Dreyfus, Curator of Ancient Art and Interpretation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and Cathleen A. Keller, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Admission prices at the Kimbell Art Museum were $12 for adults, $10 for seniors age 60 and over and students with ID, and $8 for children between 6 and 11. Children
under 6 were free, as were museum members. An Acoustiguide audio tour was available for $4 ($3 for museum members). Admission prices were half-off on Tuesdays (not applicable to the Acoustiguide audio tour).

The coordinating curator and organizer of the exhibition at the Kimbell was the Museum’s director, Timothy Potts. Fort Worth was the final venue for this groundbreaking exhibition, which was previously seen at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Promotional support for the exhibition in Fort Worth was provided by American Airlines and NBC5.

Caption: Sphinx of Hatshepsut (detail), Egypt, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18,
c. 1473–1458 BC, granite and paint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Rogers Fund, 1931