Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Explore the Egyptian Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art



I could be making a very random reference here, but I'm hoping at least some readers will remember a fun children's film produced by the happy people at Sesame Street entitled "Please Don't Eat the Pictures". In this movie, the cast of Sesame Street, including the children, the adults, and all the puppets, spend a lovely day visiting New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the end of the day, Big Bird cannot find his friend Snuffalupagus, and sneaks back into the museum to connect with him. Snaffus and shenanigans ensue, and the entire cast ends up being locked in the museum overnight.

It really is a great film, full of information about the artists and artworks featured in the museum, and how museums construct their exhibits. However, the section of the movie that reverberated for me as a child and through time, is when Big Bird and Snuffy explore the recreated masterpiece of the Temple of Dendur.

The Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts

I was enthralled by this structure. I have always been a fan of Egyptology, and seeing a full-sized Egyptian chamber rebuilt inside a New York museum fascinated me. So when I had the opportunity in 2009 to visit New York, I ensured that I slated a day at the museum in my itinerary. It was recommended that visitors to the museum arrive early, as the museum can get pretty crowded in the late afternoon. However, my friend and I meandered through Central Park before finding the museum, and so arrived just before lunch. The museum wasn't busy, though. In fact, due to the size of the building and the abundance of rooms and viewing areas, often my friend and I seemed to be the only ones there! We paid the admission (which afterwards I learned was a "recommended" admission, but not entirely "necessary" - but it all goes to a good cause, so I didn't mind paying) and entered. Of course, I made a beeline straight for the Egyptian room.

An Egyptian sarcophagus, housed in the Met.

Finding the Temple of Dendur was not as straight-forward as I'd imagined. There is a temple available for exploration immediately upon entering the Egyptian wing, the Mastaba Tomb of Perneb. It is small and claustrophobic, but it does work as a lovely introduction to some of the historic and magical things contained within the permanent collection. After following a series of connected rooms, filled with statues, broken slabs of stone covered in hieroglyphics, and even sarcophagi, I found the room which housed the Temple of Dendur. I give the exhibit designers props: this room made the already magnificent temple seem to breathe with a life of its own.

The room is vast, with large glass windows that allow the natural light to stream through. The temple is set upon a huge stone dais, surrounded by peaceful water, papyrus plants growing from the pool. Visitors are allowed to enter the temple, take photographs, and generally enjoy the space. It has been part of the museum's collection since 1978.

Standing outside the Temple of Dendur.

If you have the opportunity to travel to New York, do not miss your chance to stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are so many wonderful pieces of art housed within its walls; the Temple of Dendur is only one item among thousands worth seeing. But for sure, make sure you enter the temple and marvel at the fact that we can travel through time, if only by stepping into the past physically.