FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Fernbank Museum Hosts World-Premiere Exhibition
Exploring the Global Legend of the Queen of Sheba
ATLANTA, SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 – The myth and mystery behind one of history’s most elusive female figures is unveiled in the world premiere of Searching for the Queen of Sheba. On view at Fernbank Museum of Natural History from September 26, 2015 through January 3, 2016, Searching for the Queen of Sheba highlights the various tales of the legendary queen, including her ties to the famed Incense Road and the ancient caravan kingdoms of South Arabia.
Shrouded in mystery, legends of the Queen of Sheba have been passed down through the centuries and across different cultural and religious traditions. Although her name varies by text and region, the Queen of Sheba is mentioned in the Koran and many Arab and Persian tales; the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament; and the Ethiopian Holy Book known as the Kebra Nagast. All of her stories narrate the Queen’s visit to King Solomon, ruler of Israel, whose reign dates to the 10th century BCE. She is said to have arrived in Jerusalem with a great entourage carrying gold, spices and precious stones–gifts which foreshadow the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the Magi to Baby Jesus.
The exhibition features more than 80 objects—including coins, throne fragments, paintings, statues, incense burners, inscriptions and reproductions—that will take visitors on a journey to discover the mysteries of the Queen of Sheba and her fabled lands. The objects date as far back as the 9th century BCE and are on loan from private collections and museums in Italy as well as the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
“The Queen of Sheba’s name may be familiar to many, yet I think few know that her origins—and even her existence—have been debated for centuries,” said Dr. Bobbi Hohmann, Fernbank’s Vice President of Education, Collections and Research. “Despite the lack of direct evidence of her existence, her legend has continued to inspire scientists, historians, theologians and even Hollywood.”
Despite the consistencies across the various legends, the Queen of Sheba’s origins have remained elusive. Most modern scholars identify the ancient South Arabian Kingdom of Saba (or “Sheba” in Hebrew texts) as the origin of her myth; however, some suggest her origins should be searched for among the kingdoms of northern Arabia, Egypt of the Horn of Africa. Dating from at least 1050 BCE, the Kingdom of Saba played an important role in the early development of ancient South Arabian civilization and in the trade of locally produced and highly prized aromatic resins, known generally as incense. The Incense Road developed as a means of supplying the ancient world with the much sought-after incense, and Saba’s wealth became so great that its name became synonymous with infinite riches throughout the ancient Mediterranean world.
Exhibit visitors will encounter objects used in economic interactions along the Incense Road, like coins and seals, as well as camel figurines that were designed to protect merchants and their precious animals during their travels. Also featured are a variety of incense burners and a market scene, highlighting the diversity of goods that were traded along the Incense Road.
The incense trade stimulated cultural development in the caravan kingdoms of South Arabia. Over the centuries, cities flourished, temples and monuments were constructed, and rich and diverse artistic traditions developed. Despite their individual histories and competition for dominance, the kingdoms developed together a common South Arabian culture, sharing common dieties, religious practices, artistic and architectural motifs, and one written alphabet.
As visitors immerse themselves in South Arabian culture, they will encounter ritual objects like incense burners, offering tables, figurines, stelae and funerary portraits. They will also explore monumental inscriptions dedicated to local deities and commemorating special events.
“Artifacts recovered from archaeological sites have provided a wealth of information regarding women in ancient South Arabia,” Dr. Hohmann said. “Inscriptions tell us that women played a role in public and religious functions and that they had some degree of economic independence, while objects like stone sculptures and jewelry have also provided details about women’s preferences for certain hairstyles and dress through time.”
Evidence reveals that women played a prominent role in politics and society while still upholding traditional roles such as raising children and domestic responsibilities. Highlighting women in South Arabian culture, the exhibition showcases several statues of women, including a group known as the “Ancestors.” Dating to the 7th – 6th centuries BCE, they are among the most ancient artifacts of the region. These seated female figures may represent guardian spirits of the hearth and family, or they may have been funerary in nature, symbolically representing the deceased seated at the table of the gods.
As the exhibition closes, a presentation of images highlights the impact that the Queen’s legend has had in the Western imagination. From the Middles Ages to the modern day, her legend has inspired artists of various cultures and faiths. She has been depicted in medieval manuscripts, Gothic sculpture, Renaissance paintings and modern interpretations by famous artists. Her story has also been the subject of ballets, operas, movies and a variety of musical genres, including pop, rock, jazz and reggae.
Though her mystery has never been solved, the Queen of Sheba remains an inspiring myth transcending many faiths and cultures. Like all characters of the ancient past, the Queen cannot escape the classic questions of myth, including if she ever really existed. Whether real or legend, her story is as intriguing today as it was in antiquity.
Searching for the Queen of Sheba is organized by Contemporanea Progetti and the Polo Museale del Lazio / Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale ‘G. Tucci,’ Rome, Italy. The exhibition is sponsored locally by The Rich Foundation, Inc.
· SPECIAL PROGRAMMING:
The Queen of Sheba Opening Day Celebration on Saturday, September 26 will feature a live camel, hands-on activities, Arabian storytelling and other programming inspired by the fabled queen.
Searching for the Queen of Sheba will open the same day as Women of Vision: National Graphic Photographers on Assignment, which highlights the spirit and ambition of female photojournalists who have captured powerful stories through the insightful, sensitive and strategic use of a camera.
· HOURS AND TICKETS: Searching for the Queen of Sheba and Women of Vision are included with Museum admission. Tickets are $18 for adults, $17 for seniors, $16 for children ages 3-12, free for children under 2, and free for Fernbank members.
Fernbank Museum of Natural History is located at 767 Clifton Road NE in Atlanta. The Museum is open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tickets and visitor information are available at www.fernbankmuseum.org or 404.929.6300 (info) / 404.929.6400 (tickets).
About Fernbank Museum of Natural History
Fernbank Museum of Natural History, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, is one of the most popular and iconic cultural attractions in Atlanta. Home to the world’s largest dinosaurs, Atlanta’s biggest IMAX® screen and one of the largest assemblages or urban Piedmont forest in the United States, Fernbank brings science to life through immersive programming and unmatched experiences that encourage a greater appreciation of our planet and its inhabitants. Fernbank continues its 76-year environmental legacy to protect Fernbank Forest while fulfilling an educational mission to inspire life-long learning of natural history. Visit fernbankmuseum.org or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more.