Dive into one of the most astonishing underwater discoveries of all time. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presents Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities. The exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see treasures recovered from two powerful ancient Egyptian cities that sank into the Mediterranean more than a thousand years ago. Destroyed by natural catastrophes in the 8th century AD, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were once mighty centers of trade, where Egyptian and Greek cultures merged in art, worship, and everyday life.
In the centuries since their demise, these two cities were known only by scattered mentions in ancient writings. No physical trace of their splendor and magnificence was found, and even their true names grew obscured. Today, maritime archaeologist Franck Goddio and his European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) have given new life to these sunken cities. Presenting nearly 300 objects from IEASM’s discoveries from the Mediterranean waters of Aboukir Bay and some of Egypt’s most important museums, VMFA invites you to reconnect with these once-lost civilizations.
IEASM’s ongoing underwater excavations have fundamentally changed our understanding of the cultures, faiths, and history of Egypt’s Mediterranean region. This exhibition features a staggering array of objects from these excavations, supplemented by treasures from museums across Egypt. The objects on view piece together the economic and cultural significance of these destroyed city centers and showcase the artistry, religious practices, and traditions of their people. Thonis-Heracleion was once Egypt’s premiere center for trade with the Greek world, while the nearby city of Canopus drew pilgrims from across the Mediterranean, particularly for rites dedicated to the god Osiris. Artifacts from these cities attest to the range of human experience in this ancient land. Visitors will gain insight into Egypt’s powerful Ptolemaic Kingdom, the Graeco-Egyptian blending of cultures, and the god Osiris, who figured prominently in everyday life.
VMFA is the only East Coast venue and the last stop before the objects return to Egypt. The works of art on display include everything from jewelry and coins to utilitarian and ritual objects and from coffins and steles to the colossal statue of the fertility god Hapy, the largest discovered representation of an Egyptian god.
Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities offers a rare opportunity to experience firsthand the material culture of Ptolemaic Egypt, a golden age of human creativity in science as well as the visual and literary arts. Exciting film footage and photographs illustrate underwater expeditions and dramatic rediscoveries, as deep-sea divers solve a thousand-year-old mystery through archaeological research and innovation. Visitors will encounter these findings firsthand and witness a story that continues to unfold through ongoing excavations. Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities tells a riveting human saga of grandeur, complexity, wealth, and power, reminding us of the potentially devastating effects of natural disasters and the vulnerability of even the mightiest of human civilizations.
Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities is organized by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology with the generous support of the Hilti Foundation and in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
The Reverend Doctor Vienna Cobb Anderson
The Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Exhibition Endowment
The Julia Louise Reynolds Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Cabaniss, Jr.
Capital One Bank
Mrs. Frances Massey Dulaney
Mary Ann and Jack Frable
Virginia H. Spratley Charitable Fund II
Elizabeth and Tom Allen
Dr. Donald S. and Ms. Beejay Brown Endowment
Wayne and Nancy Chasen Family Fund of the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond
The Christian Family Foundation
The VMFA Council Exhibition Fund
Jeanann Gray Dunlap Foundation
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Garner, Jr.
Dr. and Mrs. William V. Garner
Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc.
Francena T. Harrison Foundation Trust
Peter and Nancy Huber
The Manuel and Carol Loupassi Foundation
Margaret and Thomas Mackell
Deanna M. Maneker
Alexandria Rogers McGrath
McGue Millhiser Family Trust
Norfolk Southern Corporation
Richard S. Reynolds Foundation
The Anne Carter and Walter R. Robins, Jr. Foundation
Joanne B. Robinson
Anne Marie Whittemore
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Two Anonymous Donors
Ms. Anna K. Chandler
Timothy and Tonya Finton
Mr. and Mrs. David A. Harrison IV
Celia Rafalko and Rick Sample
Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation
Mr. and Mrs. Charles N. Whitaker
Tom Williamson and Janet Brown
Patsy and John Barr
E. B. Duff Charitable Lead Annuity Trust
Dr. J. Roy Hopkins
Peachtree House Foundation
This list is complete as of January 8, 2020.