Exhibition: Gardens of the Pharaohs

The ‘Gardens of the Pharaohs’ exhibition at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden explores the nature of gardens and flora in ancient Egyptian society. The cycle of the growth and decay of vegetation was central to Egyptian civilisation, inspiring religion, philosophy and medicine. Focusing on the gardens of the pharaohs, this exhibition purports to help us understand the ideals of ancient Egyptian culture. TheHagueOnLine's Anna McGrail takes us through this beautiful exhibition.

The exhibition space itself has been carefully designed to represent a pharaonic garden with a central artistic representation of an azure pond teeming with fish and waterfowl, lined with a border of exotic flowers. At the far end is a small ‘temple’ in which are housed religious artefacts including pages of the ancient Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’ and a symbolic grain mummy complete with grain phallus. Arranged symmetrically around this central pastiche are glass display cases that resemble pillars, exhibiting examples of plants and their uses with innovative dials in the top right corners to lend a hand in deciphering their uses, be it medical, edible or religious.


My personal favourite however, was not the many plants and examples of their uses; it was the magical model of four people using barley and emer to brew beer for a dead companion. The endearingly cheerful expressions of the models articulate a love of beer that has changed very little in several thousand years. Those who partook in the recent Queen’s Night celebrations will surely agree. I was also rather taken with the display of art deco jewellery inspired by Egyptian plant designs, in particular a diamond and opal necklace with lotus flower shaped pendants and a stunning hair comb reminiscent of plant fronds.

The exhibit is carefully explained both in English and Dutch so you will be sure to leave fully understanding the nature of the ‘Gardens of the Pharaohs.’

The exhibition takes place until 2 September 2012 at the Rijksmueum van Oudheden in Leiden.

Anna McGrail


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