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Forever in a Moment: 19th Century Photographs of Egypt at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida
Antonio Beato (British, born Italy, 1825-1903), Travelers at the Great Pyramids (about 1870). Albumen print. Gift of Dr. Robert L. and Chitranee Drapkin from The Ludmila Dandrew and Chitranee Drapkin Collection.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL.- Egypt was an exotic land to nineteenth-century European artists. Painters, writers, and photographers traveled to Egypt to explore, document, and interpret this great country, its civilization, and its newly discovered antiquities. Technical advances in the young medium of photography encouraged direct observation and the advancement of knowledge.

The more than 40 images in Forever in a Moment capture this wonderful sense of discovery. The exhibition is the third in a series unveiling the magnanimous gifts of photography from Ludmila and Bruce Dandrew and Chitranee and Dr. Robert L. Drapkin. Additional works have been lent by The Drapkin Collection, Timothy Welsh, and another private collector.

Forever in a Moment beautifully complements Ancient Egypt—Art and Magic: Treasures from the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Geneva, Switzerland, an American premiere opening at the Museum of Fine Arts December 17.

The majority of the photographs in Forever in a Moment are European. They capture some of the world’s most imposing archeological sites. Many are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Chief Curator Jennifer Hardin, who has been instrumental in strengthening the Museum’s photography collection, will introduce Forever in a Moment in a Gallery Talk Sunday, November 20, at 3 p.m. Museum exhibitions and educational programs are sponsored in part by The Stuart Society, the MFA’s fund-raising auxiliary. The St. Petersburg Times is the annual media sponsor.

Fourteen images are by Antonio Beato (1825-1903), who was born in Italy and became a British citizen. He maintained studios in Cairo and Luxor from 1862-1900 and became one of the most accomplished photographers of Egypt.

Beato is represented by some of the earliest photographs of the ruins of the Ramseum, the grand mortuary temple of Rameses the Great in Western Thebes. The Greek historian Diodorus called this the tomb of Ozymandias, which in turn inspired the well-known poem by the British Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Other photographs by Beato capture the ruins at Karnak, one of the largest precincts ever built by the Egyptians, and those of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera.

Forever in a Moment also features an image of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III, one of the most illustrious pharaohs and the father of Akhenaten. The site, currently under excavation, is best known today for the Colossi of Memnon, the two massive stone statues of Amenhotep. Their scale is conveyed in a photograph by J. Pascal Sébah.

In addition, there are different views of the Temple of Isis at Philae and the Nile River and an image of a section of the Book of the Dead. Visitors will be able to move, for example, from a magnificent red granite bust of Rameses the Great or a papyrus fragment from The Book of the Dead in Ancient Egypt to these photographs in the second-floor Works on Paper Gallery. The images recover the excitement of the era when these sites were being revealed to and experienced by the West.

Photographers and other artists molded perceptions of Egypt for the vast majority of Europeans and Americans who could not travel there themselves. These early visual explorations were journalistic. They were historical records. At the same time, these photographers—and explorers—helped foster the view of a mysterious, fantastical Egypt.

Frequently, figures were included to show scale, as in Beato’s photograph of the interior of the Temple of Edfu, dedicated to the falcon god Horus. They also depicted elements of contemporary life and even European tourists on camels, as in Beato’s image reproduced here. Many were designed to satisfy the burgeoning trade in travel photographs and albums.

Forever in a Moment takes viewers on a voyage, just as these photographs did when they were originally published, displayed, or distributed. It also reminds us of how the gifts from The Ludmila Dandrew and Chitranee Drapkin Collection have transformed the Museum of Fine Arts. They are allowing the MFA to present markedly more diverse exhibitions, especially of nineteenth-century photography, and to expand the area’s horizons. In this case, the images take us back concretely to nineteenth-century Egypt and through the sites photographed, to the ancient world.

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