Why are the noses broken on Egyptian statues? Why were other body parts, including eyes, arms, and feet of statues purposely shattered in antiquity?
Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt examines the patterns of damage inflicted on works of art for political, religious, and criminal reasons—the results of organized campaigns of destruction. The exhibition illustrates how damage to a statue can be interpreted to reveal who broke it and the motivation behind the destruction. It does so by pairing damaged works—from fragmented heads to altered inscriptions—alongside undamaged works.
The ancient Egyptians believed that deities, as well as the soul of a deceased human, could inhabit stone, wood, or clay images, allowing these supernatural beings to have a presence in this world. In ancient society, religion and politics were inextricably linked. As a result, this imagery also held powerful ties to political leadership.
Just as the image could be activated by rituals, it could be deactivated through selective destruction of key features. These features included specific body parts and royal or divine symbols. Because the activated image was conceived as a body for a supernatural being, the power in the image could be harmed through striking it and damaging its form. Scholars call this type of damage iconoclasm.
This exhibition is organized by the Brooklyn Museum in collaboration with the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and is curated by Edward Bleiberg, Curator Emeritus, Brooklyn Museum.
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Dr. Robert Lewis Berg and Florence Foster Berg Fund
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Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Fund
Nancy R. Turner Fund for Special Exhibitions