This major inaugural exhibition at the new de Young museum, with its fascinating display, highlights the art that was created during the glorious reign of the enigmatic and intriguing female pharaoh Hatshepsut, who shared Egypt’s throne for nearly two decades (ca. 1473–1458 B.C.) in the early New Kingdom as senior co-ruler with her young nephew, Tuthmosis III.
Hatshepsut’s reign was a period of immense artistic creativity. This unprecedented exhibition brings together a vast treasure trove of almost 300 objects that includes royal statuary and relief, monumental sculpture representing members of the royal court, a wide variety of ceremonial objects, finely crafted decorative objects, dazzling gold jewelry, and other exquisite personal items, all of which both tell the compelling story of Hatshepsut’s reign and reveal the diverse and sophisticated artistic production of her time.
The phenomenon of a woman ruling a fundamentally patriarchal society while surrounded by male courtiers and advisors, the eventual destruction of Hatshepsut’s monuments by Tuthmosis III, and the omission of her name from later king lists have fueled debate among Egyptologists for over a century. Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh presents the changing interpretations of the woman who, at about the age of 20, claimed the full powers of the throne upon the death of her husband, Tuthmosis II, who was also her half-brother, and gradually assumed the title of “King” and the trappings of kingship in addition to the queenly titles that she already held.
Under an unusual line of succession, she and Tuthmosis III, who was the son of Hatshepsut’s husband, but by a lesser queen, effectively shared the throne of Egypt as two kings for a period of almost 20 years. Hatshepsut’s metamorphosis from a queen into a king took place gradually and appears to have gone through a series of exploratory phases. Her monuments depict her both as a woman and as a man, in king’s regalia, including a strapped-on false beard. As Egypt’s two Horuses, Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III, 13 years her junior, frequently appeared together on monuments as “twin” male rulers distinguished only by the position of their cartouches--with Hatshepsut usually taking precedence--or occasionally by their regalia.
Although her reign defied long-established convention, it was accepted by her people and Egypt flourished, as seen through the superb and innovative art and architecture of her prosperous and largely peaceful rule. About 20 years after Hatshepsut’s death, however, her name and her image were systematically obliterated, her kingly monuments were destroyed, and she was forgotten.
Exhibitions are an important aspect of a curatorial department. The Ancient Art Department has organized and mounted over the years exhibitions showcasing art from different ancient cultures in the Mediterranean. Some of these exhibitions are also accompanied by scholarly catalogues written, edited, or with contributions by the curator in charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation, and published by the Publications Department. Exhibitions, like publications, fulfill the fundamental commitment of the Department to education, research, and scholarship.