The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge’s ‘Death on the Nile’ exhibition is excellent – enlightening as well as informative. The aim of the exhibition is to uncover the afterlife of ancient Egypt and it does that by demonstrating, in fascinating detail, how coffin design developed over a period of 4,000 years or so.
As the exhibition points out, we tend to think of the Egyptians as having been obsessed with death – in fact, the opposite was true and it was their love of life that led to them to make such detailed plans for death, wanting the afterlife to be an exact replica of all that is good about life. The exhibition contains both complete and fragmentary coffins, all adorned with texts and beautiful decorations. Through studying these, historians have learned a huge amount about the craftsmen who made the coffins and the clients who commissioned & bought them.
It’s fascinating to see how the styles of the coffins changed over the years and how they, like clothes, were subject to the fashions & beliefs of the time, as well as being status symbols. The skill and craftsmanship on display is something to behold. How is it that, thousands of years later, the coffins, illustrations & colours remain virtually intact?