Hatshepsut (Hat-shep-soot), the first important female ruler known to history, lived a thousand years after the pyramids were built and seventeen centuries after the Egyptians had begun writing their language in hieroglyphs. She ruled Egypt for two decades (ca. 1473–1458 B.C.) during Egypt's Dynasty 18. Although less familiar to modern audiences than her much later successor, the notorious Cleopatra (51–30 B.C.), Hatshepsut's achievements were far more significant. Ruling first as regent for, then as co-ruler with, her nephew Thutmose III (who ruled for another thirty-three years after her death), Hatshepsut enjoyed a relatively peaceful reign, at the beginning of the New Kingdom. During this time, she restored monuments destroyed during the disruptive Second Intermediate Period, when northern Egypt was controlled by a dynasty of Asian princes and southern Egypt by a dynasty of Egyptians based in Thebes. She renewed trade with western Asia to the east, the far-off land of Punt to the south, and the Aegean Islands to the north. The resulting economic prosperity was reflected in the art of the time, which is characterized by remarkable innovations in sculpture and decorative arts and produced such architectural marvels as Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. For reasons that are still unclear, twenty years after Hatshepsut died her nephew had her statues smashed and her name and image erased from all monuments. In spite of this deliberate destruction, the memory of a female ruler persisted for more than a thousand years. In the third century B.C., an Egyptian priest named Manetho, who was writing a history of Egypt, included a twenty-one year reign for a female pharaoh in early Dynasty 18.
This landmark traveling exhibition features pieces from the Metropolitan's own extensive holdings of objects excavated by the Museum's Egyptian Expedition in the 1920s and 1930s, supplemented by loans from other American and European museums, as well as by select loans from Cairo and Luxor. The New York showing of the exhibition marks the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Museum's Department of Egyptian Art.
Hatshepsut was the principal queen of her half-brother Thutmose II, fourth king of Dynasty 18. After his untimely death, she acted as regent for her young stepson/nephew Thutmose III. Within a few years, she had assumed the position of senior co-ruler, and adopted the title of king. "Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh" examines 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, arranged thematically, includes sculpture that represents Hatshepsut's immediate predecessors and also outstanding members of her court. Particular attention is given to statuary of the royal steward Senenmut, who oversaw Hatshepsut's estates when she was queen, tutored her daughter, Neferure, and eventually became the Great Steward of Amun, the most powerful god of the Egyptian pantheon. Of all the members of Hatshepsut's court, Senenmut was the best known and the most often represented. On view are six striking examples of his innovative statuary—including one in which he holds a cryptogram of Hatshepsut's throne name—that influenced the sculpture of later periods.
The exhibition above all features statues of Hatshepsut herself, including images of her as a female ruler, as a masculine king, and as a sphinx. These link the special exhibition to the Museum's permanent collection of Egyptian art, which includes a gallery devoted to statues of Hatshepsut that were excavated by the Museum's Egyptian Expedition in the late 1920s and early 1930s and were allotted to the Museum by the Egyptian government in the division of finds. (The Metropolitan Museum's excavation team was largely responsible for the discovery, excavation, and reconstruction of the statuary that once decorated Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri in western Thebes, and many works related to Hatshepsut entered the Museum's collection as a result of these excavations.) Numerous objects that belonged to Egyptians from the time of Hatshepsut are also on view. These include elegant stone vessels, jewelry, and furniture.
The exhibition is made possible by Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman.
The exhibition catalogue is made possible by The Adelaide Milton de Groot Fund at the Metropolitan Museum, in memory of the de Groot and Hawley families.
It was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
The exhibition is 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.