Gallery Glance: “Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt” at Pulitzer Arts Foundation

“Akhenaten and His Daughter Offering to the Aten” (ca. 1353-36 B.C.E.), New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten. Made for a temple in Hermopolis Magna, Egypt. Limestone, pigment, 8 x 20 x 1 1/4 inches. (Brooklyn Museum)

A provocative exhibit opening March 22 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis was conceived to stimulate thought on the power of monuments and what drives their destruction.

Featuring 40 masterworks of ancient Egyptian art from the Brooklyn Museum, “Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt” demonstrates how seemingly random acts of destruction and defacement were deliberate actions intended to undermine the strength of objects viewed as vehicles of powerful spiritual energy.

Works on view include a limestone sculpture of Amunhotep, Son of Nebiry, ca. 1426-1400 B.C.E., which is missing a nose, and a limestone sculpture of Djehuti, ca. 1539-1390 B.C.E., with the entire head broken off. As noted in the press release, “Amunhotep’s spirit is prevented from breathing by the removal of the nose, while Djehuti’s statue is deactivated by decapitation.”

The reasons for these acts of destruction led Edward Bleiberg, senior curator of Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Brooklyn Museum, on a search for answers.

“The most common question I am asked about the Brooklyn Museum’s collection of Egyptian art is “Why are the noses broken?” Bleiberg said.

The exhibit includes an entire gallery devoted to Akhenaten (reigned ca. 1353-1336 B.C.E.), whose efforts to end the worship of many gods in favor of the sole veneration of the god Aten, elicited pushback in the form of damage to images of the ruler and the god. The destruction can be seen in a carved relief of Akhenaten and his daughter offering a bouquet to Aten (above), in which Akhenaten’s face and crown have been destroyed and the cartouches on his body that contained his name have been gouged out as a means of depriving him of royal legitimacy.

Co-curated by Bleiberg and the Pulitzer’s Stephanie Weissberg, “Striking Power” opens “a window,” Bleiberg said, “onto (these objects’) role as instruments of political and cultural power, both at the time of their creation and through centuries of changing cultures and beliefs. It is a millennia-old story, and one that is as resonant today as ever.”

“Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt,” organized by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum, opens March 22 and continues through Aug. 11 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 3716 Washington Blvd., St. Louis. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. Admission is free. For more information, 314.754.1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

  1. Pete Wagner says:

    Makes more sense that the destruction of noses was to prevent us from seeing which turned up (Atlantis descendents, from the West) and which turned down (invaders from the East). Also plays into the idea of “the mark of Cain.”

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