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Paganism and Christianity in Egypt (Coptic Exhibition)

DATES January 23, 1941 through March 09, 1941
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  • October 19, 1940 The Brooklyn Museum’s plans for the greater part of the 1940-41 season and the first part of the 1941-42 season have just been announced.

    The principal exhibitions of the year begin with “Art Finds a Way,” a graphic comment on the subject of skilled work, about which there is so much discussion today, and will demonstrate the great skills man has developed through the years in producing useful objects that have become recognized as objects of art. This exhibition, arranged under the direction of Dr. Herbert J. Spinden, Curator of the Department of American Indian Art and Primitive Cultures, will be made up principally from the Museum’s collections augmented by several loans. It will run from November 1 through January 2.

    Also opening in November is an exhibition of Children’s Clothing, showing the development for the last 125 years and the emergence from slavish copying of adult costume into special designs for the younger generation. Materials for this exhibition will also come principally from the Museum’s collection, enhanced by a few loans. This show is being arranged by Mrs. Michelle Murphy, Supervisor of the Department of Education, and will extend from November 9 through January 12.

    On the 23rd of January, “Paganism and Christianity in Egypt - The Art of Egypt from the First to the Tenth Century,” will open. It will be the first purely Coptic showing arranged in this country. This is being prepared by the Museum’s Department of Egyptology. The exhibition will close on March 9.

    A show for which the Museum is internationally famous, the Biennial Water Color Exhibition, will open on March 27 and close May 11. It will be arranged under the supervision of John I. H. Baur, Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture.

    Another exhibition arranged from the Costume collections will be a showing of millinery, past and current, from March 8 through April 20, which will also be arranged by Mrs. Michelle Murphy, Supervisor of the Department of Education.

    The last large exhibition of the season will be made up of art from the printing press, to demonstrate the problems of those who are producing art every day, week and month for the great public, and the process involved in doing so. This exhibition is being arranged by a committee composed of Ralph Halker, architect, George Welp, art director, and Edward A. Wilson, illustrator, together with representatives of the Museum.

    Following the Silk Screen Prints exhibition, arranged by the Print Department, which opened September 20 and will run through October 20, is “The Stage is Set”, running from October 4 through November 17, made up of reproductions of theatre, opera and ballet subjects selected from Library material. As the result of the continual work which is going on in the Photographic Department at the Museum of the printing of negatives from the George B. Brainard Collection of 2,500 views of this part of the country, a third showing of prints will be put on view October 11 and will continue through November 3.

    On the 24th of October the Print Department will hang an exhibition of Current Campaign Cartoons by artists well known in this field, which will continue through December 1. During the same period but opening a day later, October 25, a gift in the form of a group of pressed glass, collected by Mrs. William Greig Walker and presented to the Museum as the result of a subscription fund, will be shown for the first time. The 138 items are all impressed with subjects relating to persons and events that held public interest in the United States, and to some extent in Europe, between 1820 and 1940. The title of the exhibition is “History in Pressed Glass.

    “The Nativity in Art,” made up of reproductions of 15th Century woodcuts and medieval manuscripts, will be put on view November 22 to continue through January 5. This exhibition was arranged by Miss Alice Ford, a member of the Art Reference Library staff. A showing of Recent Accessions will open on December 5 and extend through January 12. In this same period the exhibition called “Forever Young” will be shown. The latter will be composed of illustrations for children’s books, arranged by the Print Department. January 18 through February 2 the annual showing of the work of Brooklyn artists, restricted this year to water colors, will be arranged by John I. H. Baur, Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture, and there will be another exhibition in January of other views of Brooklyn and Long Island from the George B. Brainard Collection, from January 9 through February 9.

    For the 1941-42 season the following exhibitions are already planned: Paintings by John Quidor (1801-1881), and also a collection of works by William S. Mount (1807-1868), both arranged by John I. H. Baur, Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture; and “Colonial Art of Latin America,” prepared under the supervision of Dr. Herbert J. Spinden, Curator of the Department of American Indian Art and Primitive Cultures.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 10-12/1940, 181-3.
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  • January 11, 1941 The first exhibition devoted solely to Coptic art ever to be held in the United States will open to the public at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday, January 23, to continue through March 9. It will be titled “Paganism and Christianity in Egypt - Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century, A.D.” This is the second major exhibition of the season and is being arranged by the Department of Ancient Art. It will ill be composed of material from the Museum’s Charles Edwin Wilbour Collection, the collection of the New York Historical Society in the Brooklyn Museum, and several loans.

    As the main title implies the objects to be shown will be not only of Christian Coptic but also of pagan origin, and will illustrate some of the cultural trends evident in the early Christian art of Egypt. As the announcement states, “The main purpose of the exhibition is the stimulation of Coptic studies. Much remains to be done in comparing and coordinating the remains of Roman and Christian Egypt, and in determining the nature and the extent of its contributions to our cultural heritage. Thanks to the splendid cooperation received from individual collectors and institutions, the Museum is able to offer a representative collection of the Coptic material available in America. Much of this material has never been exhibited previously, and a great part of it has never been seen before in New York.”

    While certain objects in the exhibition will appeal primarily to the archaeologist and the historian of art, very many will have a much wider appeal, extending to the great public interested in the origins of Christianity and to the many who will look at the exhibition chiefly for what it offers in the way of decorative designs. The ornamental motifs of the reliefs and the vigorous, often very “modern” patterns and colors of the textiles should prove stimulating to lovers and students of art, whatever their special field of interest.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-03/1941, 007.
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  • January 20, 1941 The exhibition of Coptic art, “Paganism and Christianity in Egypt - Egyptian Art from the 1st to the 10th Century,” which opens to the public on Thursday, January 23, after an invitation preview Wednesday evening, will be available to reviewers the Monday before the opening, that is, MONDAY, JANUARY 20.

    At that time catalogue material and photographs will be on hand as usual, at the Information-Sales Desk in the Entrance Hall, next to the Special Exhibitions Galleries.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-03/1941, 013.
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  • January 23, 1941 With the public opening today (Thursday, January 23) of the exhibition “Paganism and Christianity in Egypt - Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century” at the Brooklyn Museum, in the Gallery of Special Exhibitions, there is presented the first showing on record, either in this country or in Europe, devoted solely to objects of artistic significance from the first thousand years of the Christian Era in Egypt, now known as Coptic. The showing will continue through March 9. Last night there was a preview for Museum members and their guests, preceded by a dinner at the Museum. His Excellency Mahmoud Hassan Bey and Madame Hassan, and Dr. Hussein Chawky, Egyptian Consul General are the most noteworthy invited guests.

    The exhibition was arranged by the Department of Egyptology of which Mr. John D. Cooney is the Curator, and Mrs. Elizabeth Riefstahl, Librarian of the Charles Edwin Wilbour Memorial Library, a collection devoted to Egypt.

    A museum publication in the form of a 200-page illustrated catalogue, in which the 300 objects exhibited are carefully catalogued will be a scholarly contribution to several fields of knowledge. The introduction to the first part, “Pagan and Christian Egypt,” was written by Mr. Cooney, and to the second part, “Egyptian Textiles of the Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Period,” by Mrs. Riefstahl. The bound catalogue will not be available for some time due to the large quantity of objects that were made available when knowledge of the projected exhibition came to interested circles. The result has been that the catalogue volume is twice the size at first planned, which has meant a delay in printing. Subscriptions are being taken for the finished catalogue at the Museum.

    Objects that make up the display were drawn from the Museum’s own Egyptian collection, the collection of the New York Historical Society in the Brooklyn Museum, enhanced by important loans from the Brummer Gallery, City Art Museum of St. Louis, Cooper Union Museum, The Detroit Institute of Art, Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Fogg Museum of Art, Mr. Robert Garrett, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins University Archaeological Museum, Mr. Dikran G. Kelekian, Mr. H. Kevorkian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mr. Krikor Minassian, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Mr. Edward T. Newell, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, Pratt Institute, Professor Vladimir G. Simkhovitch, Textile Museum of the District of Columbia, Mr. and Mrs. William R. Tyler, University Museum at Philadelphia, Dr. William R. Valentiner, Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Walters Art Gallery.

    An imposing series of decorated engaged limestone arches of the late 5th Century are reconstructed on the huge back wall of the Entrance Hall, so that they are the first exhibit a visitor sees on entering the Museum. This stone work is said to be from Bawit, and is lent by Mr. H. Kevorkian.

    Many classes of objects, all with their origin in Egypt, comprise the exhibition, such as sculpture and architectural reliefs, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, jewelry, wood carvings and textiles. A number of the objects are clearly Christian in origin, mostly vessels and altar furnishings used in the ceremonials of the Coptic church. Others are the last survival of Egyptian and Classical traditions, witnessing the dying cults of the pagan gods.

    An interesting special feature is a group of photographic enlargements of Roman coins minted in Egypt, magnified to twenty times their natural size. They are valuable for the light they throw on the religion of Egypt, especially in the 2nd century A.D. Many of them have figures of deities on the reverse side. To make the coins easy to see, Herman de Wetter, staff photographer of the Museum, made the enlargements for forty coins so they could be arranged as a decorative frieze in one of the galleries. The coins used were selected from his own collection by Mr. Edward T. Newell, President of the American Numismatic Society.

    The period covered by the exhibition embraces the 1st to the 10th Centuries, when Egypt emerged from cultural chaos and under the influence of the Coptic Church attained a new unity of art expression culminating in Coptic Art. The word Coptic was at first applied to the Egyptian Christians and now designates a style, although many objects called Coptic are of purely pagan origin.

    According to Mr. Cooney, Coptic art did not produce spectacular achievements, but due to the emphasis on the decorative phase much noteworthy work was done in frescoes and fabrics.

    There is a large group of fabrics in the exhibition which reflects the fact that of all the remains of the period the textiles are the most abundant. Mrs. Riefstahl points out in her introduction that they are important in the study of Coptic art as they go far to reveal the life of the age in a vivid manner, showing what was worn, how people lived, and even what they thought about. The quality of the weaves, she states further, is witness to a wide divergence of taste and skills.

    Speaking of the period as a whole, Mr. Cooney says, ”The Copts achieved an unmistakable individuality suited to new conditions,” and the art “has characteristics which makes it impressive. Its decorative qualities are obvious and it is never lacking in vigor. A study of value to scholars and designers could be made of the variants of the grapevine motif alone. The art also possesses many of the elements common to Renaissance art and is of great value in a study of early Medieval art. The old attitude that Coptic art was little more than a bastard descendant of late antiquity has yielded to the obvious truth that the Copts developed an expression of their own.”

    Because this field has been explored comparatively little, the exhibition was assembled, Mr. Cooney states, to stimulate research and study of the history and art of a period deserving greater attention than it has received so far.

    Mr. Cooney credits Mrs. Riefstahl with the original idea of the exhibition, and states she took over the task of assembling and cataloging the textiles, as well as participating in the balance of the exhibition. The show as a whole was assembled and supervised by Mr. Cooney.

    Assistance from Prof. Lehmann-Hartleben, of New York University, is also acknowledged for his help in making selections; Mr. Marvin Chauncey Ross, who pointed out objects not previously known to the Museum and who assisted in attributions; Miss Elizabeth Dow, of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, for placing her notes on Christian objects in the United States at the disposal of the Museum; Mrs. Blanche Brown of New York, for lending her notes on examples of ancient painting in this country; and to the WPA organization at the Museum, responsible for producing labels and posters as well as for work in preparing the manuscript for the catalogue.

    Acknowledgement is also made to the many lenders who made possible this first comprehensive exhibition of Coptic art. Many of them lent pieces formerly unknown to the Museum, particularly Mr. George Hewitt Myers of Washington, who sent many of his choicest Coptic textiles for the duration of the exhibition. The Museum acknowledges indebtedness to the Walters Gallery and the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, who were responsible for authorizing the loan of important and fragile objects. Pratt Institute, augmented by the cooperation of Mr. Frederic B. Pratt, transferred their entire Coptic collection to the Museum for the purpose of making selections. Other particularly valuable groups of loans were from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper Union Museum, and the Brummer, Kevorkian, Kelekian and Minassian galleries.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-03/1941, 018-20.
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  • January 19, 1941 A dinner will be given at the Brooklyn Museum on the evening Wednesday, January 22, before the opening of the special exhibition “Paganism and Christianity in Egypt - Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century,” arranged by the Museum’s Department of Egyptology. The guests who have been invited are:

    His Excellency Mahmoud Hassan Bey and Madame Hassan
    Dr. Husseing Chawky, Egyptian Consul General
    Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Chauncey Ross
    Mr. and Mrs. Robert Garrett
    Dr. and Mrs. Wm. L. Westermann
    Prof. and Mrs. Vladimir G. Simkhovitch
    Mr. and Mrs. Horace H. F. Jayne
    Dr. and Mrs. Karl Lehmann-Hartleben
    Miss Mary S. M. Gibson
    Dr. Herman Ranke
    Mr. and Mrs. Hardinge Schells
    Mrs. Juliana Force
    Mr. and Mrs. Edward C. Blum
    Mr. and Mrs. Frederic B. Pratt
    Mr. and Mrs. Sidney W. Davidson
    Mr. and Mrs. Francis Christy
    Mr. and Mrs. Henry A. Ingraham
    Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pratt
    Mr. and Mrs. Edwin P. Maynard
    Mr. and Mrs. Herbert E. Winlock
    Mr. and Mrs. Francis H. Taylor

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-03/1941, 021.
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  • February 14, 1941 A symposium In two sessions will be held (this) (tomorrow) afternoon and evening (Saturday, February 15), by the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University and the Brooklyn Museum, in connection with the exhibition “Paganism and Christianity in Egypt” now current at the Brooklyn Museum, which opened on January 23 and continues through March 9. The afternoon meeting will be held at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University, 17 East 80th Street, Manhattan, at 2:30; and the evening meeting, at the Brooklyn Museum, Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, at 6:00 o’clock. Attendance at both meetings is by invitation.

    The first session will be presided over by Professor Karl Lehmann-Hartleben, of New York University, who cooperated closely with Mr. John Cooney and Mrs. Elizabeth Riefstahl of the Brooklyn Museum in preparing the Coptic exhibition at the Museum. The speakers will be Professor William Linn Westermann of Columbia University, whose subject will be “On the Background of Copticism”; Professor Arthur D. Nock of Harvard University, who will speak on “Religious Trends in Late Antique Egypt”; and Mr. John D. Cooney Curator of the Department of Egyptology of the Brooklyn Museum, who will talk on “Some Problems of Egyptian Art in the Late Antique and Early Christian Period.”

    Those attending the symposium at the Brooklyn Museum will be guests of the Museum at a buffet supper, which will be followed by a visit to the exhibition and two addresses at a meeting presided over by Professor Charles Rufus Morey of Princeton University. At the evening session Professor Sirarpie Der Nersessian of Wellesley College will speak on “Coptic Painting,” and Dr. Maurice Dimand of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on “Coptic Textiles.”

    (The list of guests who have accepted is attached.)

    List of Acceptances
    Afternoon and Evening Meetings of the Symposium on Pagan and Christian Egypt at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University and the Brooklyn Museum
    Saturday, February 15, 1941

    Miss Gertrude Achenbach
    Miss Mathilda Avery
    Mr. and Mrs. John I. H. Baur
    Miss Louisa Bellinger
    Dr. Albert Billheimer
    Miss Clairece Black
    Mr. and Mrs. Edward C. Blum
    Mr. Donald Brown
    Mrs. Milton Brown
    Professor John A. Burrell
    Mr. George R. Collins
    Mr. and Mrs. Harris Dunscombe Colt
    Mr. John D. Cooney
    Miss Jean Cormack
    Miss Mary Crane
    Miss Morna Crawford
    Miss B. Cowdrey
    Professor G. L. della Vida
    Miss Sirarpie Der Nersessian
    Dr. and Mrs. Maurice Dimand
    Miss Elizabeth Dow
    Mr. Glanville Downey
    Miss Mary Emlen
    Dr. Walter Federn
    Miss Helen M. Franc
    Professor Eric Frank
    Miss Mary M. L. Gibson
    Miss Theresa Goell
    Miss Hetty Goldman
    Dr. Ferdinand R. Grace
    Miss Belle da Costa Greene
    Miss Elizabeth Haight
    Miss Ethel Hanan
    Dr. George M. A. Hanfmann
    Miss Meta P. Harrsan
    Mr. Walter Hauser
    Mrs. J. Herter
    Miss Dorothy Hill
    Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Holsten
    Mr. Ralph Jonas
    Mr. Joseph P. Kelleher
    Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon Keck
    Mr. Clinton Keyes
    Professor Kaspar J. Kraemer
    Dr. and Mrs. Richard Krautheimer
    Madame Lydia N. Krinken
    Mr. Ambrose Lansing
    Miss Marion Lawrence
    Professor and Mrs. Karl Lehmann-Hartleben
    Professor Doro Levi
    Dr. Naphtali Lewis
    Miss Irene Lewisohn
    Dr. Herbert Liebesny
    Mr. David Randall Maclver
    Dr. Ralph Marcus
    Mr. John R. Martin
    Professor A. P. McMahon
    Mr. Howard S. Merritt
    Miss Johanne Moller
    Professor and Mrs. Charles Rufus Morey
    Miss Hannah Muller
    Mrs. Michelle Murphy
    Dr. Hans Nachod
    Professor Arthur D. Nock
    Mr. Sidney Noe
    Mr. Paul F. Norton
    Mr. Charles P. Parkinson
    Miss Penelope Pattee
    Miss Grace S. Person
    Mrs. Dorothy Philips
    Professor Hermann Ranke
    Miss Jean Reed
    Miss Gisela M. A. Richter
    Miss Irma Richter
    Mrs. Elizabeth Riefstahl
    Mr. and Mrs. Laurance P. Roberts
    Mr. James Rorimer
    Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Chauncey Ross
    Mrs. Margaret T. J. Rowe
    Mrs. Milton E. Ryberg
    Miss Anne Southard
    Professor and Mrs. Arthur Schiller
    Miss Helen Searls
    Miss Bertha Segall
    Mrs. Barbara Sessions
    Professor Vladimir Simkhovitch
    Mrs. Esther Sperry
    Mr. Theodore D. Starr, Jr.
    Mr. Meriweather Stuart
    Dr. Hanns Swarzenski
    Professor Emerson H. Swift
    Mr. Craig H. Symth
    Mr. Francis H. Taylor
    Dr. N. P. Toll
    Miss Gertrude Townsend
    Mr. Marco Treves
    Professor Dimitris Tselos
    Mr. Royall Tyler
    Mr. and Mrs. William R. Tyler
    Professor Raymond Weaver
    Miss Polaire Weissman
    Dr. Kurt Weitzmann
    Professor C. B. Welles
    Professor and Mrs. William Linn Westerman
    Mr. Donald N. Wilber
    Mr. Charles K. Wilkinson
    Miss Phyllis Williams
    Dr. Edgar Wind
    Mr. Daniel Woods
    Miss Dorothy Wood
    Miss Theodora Woods
    Mrs. Ida P. Yates
    Mr. Bishop Tatum

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 01-03/1941, 039-40.
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