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Queen of Sheba Opens at Bowers Museum
Inscribed hand dedicated to the god Talab, 2nd-3rd century ad, bronze.

SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA.- The myth, mystery and majesty of the Queen of Sheba is the focus of a new and exciting landmark exhibition at the Bowers Museum. Organized by The British Museum exclusively for the Bowers, Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality opens October 17, 2004 and runs through March 13, 2005. This is the first time the celebrated Queen of Sheba exhibition has come to the United States.

“The Bowers is proud to bring the treasures of The British Museum to Southern California and the United States,” say Peter C. Keller, Ph.D., president of the Bowers. “With many people unable to travel to London, we decided to bring London and The British Museum to them.”

Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality focuses on the significance and splendor of the mythical Queen of Sheba, legendary ruler of Saba, and the ancient kingdoms that prospered under her reign through commodity trade to Jerusalem and the Roman Empire.

The Queen of Sheba is a legendary figure referred to in the Old Testament as bringing great riches to the court of King Solomon in Jerusalem. Jewish, Christian, Ethiopian and Islamic traditions dwell on different attributes, giving rise to a rich artistic vein, particularly but not exclusively in Renaissance and later art.

The Queen of Sheba, however, remains an anonymous figure of legend associated with the land of Saba, one of the early kingdoms of Southern Arabia, now present-day Yemen. "There are many interpretations of the Queen of Sheba legend, which makes this exhibition and story so fascinating and compelling,” says exhibition curator St John Simpson.

“When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan -- with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones – she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind ." (1 Kings 10)

Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality will feature more than 100 spectacular treasures chosen from the breathtaking collections of the 250-year-old British Museum. These treasures, some from the 1st century, will bring to life the history of Queen of Sheba’s fascinating ancient civilization still mostly unfamiliar to a Western audience. In addition to magnificent treasures from the acclaimed British Museum collection, one of the marquee treasures in Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality is a bronze head of a male that was lent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The exhibition will begin with the Queen of Sheba as a legend in art through Renaissance and modern representations. Queen of Sheba is viewed as a figure of beauty and seduction who sent a camel train of gold and ivory to King Solomon. According to legend, Solomon married the Queen around 950 BC after she became enthralled by the magnificence and majesty of his palace.

Included among the exhibit’s stunning prints, drawings and film stills that illustrate various explanations of the Queen of Sheba legend are a superbly detailed 1590-1600 creation of the Queen of Sheba reclining beside a stream, and a splendid 1549 etching that depicts the Queen falling to her knees before King Solomon.

The early history and cultural development of Sheba’s ancient civilization are explored in this exhibit through new archaeological discoveries, demonstrating the existence of a rich Bronze Age culture. Among the alluring treasures are statues depicting rulers of rival kingdoms as well as the striking 1st century alabaster head of a woman that reveals the attitudes regarding death and the afterlife in the ancient civilization.

Spectacular examples of decorative architectural elements, gold jewels and jewelry, pottery, glass and metalwork will reveal daily life in this ancient civilization. Extravagant incense burners and aromatic resins highlighted the bastion of the ancient economy. Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality will present a stunning 3rd century calcite-alabaster incense burner engraved with a camel rider. The evocative smell of incense will be used to enrich the atmosphere in the Bowers’ gallery and grand galleria, designed by Paul Johnson, Director of Exhibit Design.

The development of art during Sheba’s era will be revealed in the exhibit through such artifacts as the exquisitely crafted gold bull’s head as well as a bronze altar with a bull’s head and a lifelike bronze hand with a dedicatory inscription that provides insight into this civilization’s fascinating culture.

The Bowers previously featured Egyptian Treasures from The British Museum in 2000. The relationship between the museums grew, and in May 2003, the Bowers became the first museum to sign a long-term, joint-venture agreement with The British Museum. The next exhibit to come to the Bowers Museum under this collaboration is Mummies: Death and The Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, which will open April 17, 2005.

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