Yaaaaas, Queen! Nelson-Atkins’ Newest Exhibit Features An Egyptian Empress

Egypt, Thebes, Luxor, Valley of the Queens, Tomb of Nefertari, mural painting of Queen reciting mortuary formula in Burial chamber from 19th dynasty (detail) / De Agostini Picture Library / S. Vannini / Bridgeman Images

It’s the Nelson-Atkins newest exhibit—one with several millenniums of history under its belt. Introducing Queen Nefertari: Eternal Egypt, an in-depth look at the life and times (and, uh, tombs) of the legendary Egyptian empress.


For the Nelson’s director Julián Zugazagoitia, the museum’s latest unveiling wasn’t just a labor of love, but a homecoming of sorts. Seems Zugazagoitia actually visited the Queen’s tombs years ago. Now she’s come full circle in Zugazagoitia’s life once again. We caught up with him to find out how everything old is indeed new again.

Julián Zugazagoitia in Queen Nefertari’s tomb, 1993. Photo provided by Julián Zugazagoitia.

So, your new Queen Nefertari: Eternal Egypt exhibit is an old-school homecoming of sorts for you, yes? Do tell.

“In the early 1990s, I stepped—for the first time—into the tomb of Queen Nefertari in Egypt’s Valley of the Queens. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Even though the tomb was more than 3,000 years old, the walls were elaborately painted with vivid colors, with winged goddesses, hieroglyphs, insects, and birds. I was working on behalf of the Getty Conservation Institute to find the best way to preserve the tomb of this queen, who must have been an extraordinary presence. Ramsses II called her ‘For Whom the Sun Rises,’ and she completely captured my imagination. In fact, my first exhibition as a curator was Nefertari: Light of Egypt, which opened in Rome, and I will never forget arriving at that museum and seeing a line of visitors around the block.”

Ankhpakhered’s sarcophagus, 746-655 B.C.E. Stuccoed and painted wood, 69 11/16 x 13 9/16 x 18 1/8 inches (177 x 34.5 x 46 cm). Museo Egizio, Turin.

What do you want people to know about the exhibition?
“This exhibition is primarily composed of treasures from the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy, and includes pieces that resonate deeply in my memory. While visitors will feel as though they are entering the cool darkness of Nefertari’s tomb, it is an exhibition about life and the way Egyptians lived more than 3,000 years ago.”

Sandals, ca. 1279-1213 B.C.E. Vegetal Fibers (Palm leaves). Tomb of Nefertari, Valley off the Queens. New Kingdom, 19th dynasty, reign of Ramesses II (ca. 1279-1213 B.C.E.) Museo Egizio, Turin.

Any surprises that we should look for?
“A pair of simple, fiber sandals was found in the tomb, and we believe Queen Nefertari wore them. They are a woman’s size nine, so you can imagine she was a woman of imposing height. She was an educated woman who was very much ahead of her time and provided counsel to her husband—a much different role than we might have imagined her having.”

Stela of Nakhi, “servant in the Place of Truth,”offering to Osiris and Anubis, likely from Deir el-Medina, New Kingdom, 18th – 20th Dynasties, 1539-1076 B.C.E. Sandstone, 39 1/2 x 25 x 6 inches (100 x 63 x 15 cm). Museo Egizio, Turin.

If someone would have told you Queen Nefertari would be following you 25 years later, what would you have told them?
“She obviously was as struck by my first visit to her tomb as I was! We are bound for life and afterlife!”

Oh, and while we’ve got you—can you give us a quick update on the new Tivoli Theater at the Nelson?
“I enjoyed seeing IN Kansas City at the premiere night! What a great celebration and what an amazing community response we have received. Check our website for the latest film offerings and be sure to come back often.”

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed