The National Museum of Asian Art will showcase the portable treasures acquired by industrialist and art collector Charles Lang Freer during his 20th-century sojourns to Egypt in the upcoming exhibition A Collector’s Eye: Freer in Egypt. Though Freer earned art-world renown for accumulating an array of East Asian art, the exhibition instead centers his collection of ancient Egyptian and Byzantine material objects, reinterpreting both the collection and collector through Near Eastern jewelry, metalworks, and luxury goods. Rather than purchase mummified remains or stone stele coveted by his colleges, Freer preferred to collect portable items like colorful Egyptian New Kingdom glass beads or Byzantine metal jewelry, demonstrating unique taste and a keen eye for impressive craftsmanship. In addition to Egyptian artifacts, Freer obtained a fifth-century Byzantine biblical manuscript, known as the Washington Codex, in 1906. Curators will incorporate a digital iteration of the manuscript, described as “one of the oldest Bibles in the world,” into the exhibition. Through the lens of Freer’s collection, A Collector’s Eye examines the influence of Egyptian art on modern American culture, relating iconic structures like the obelisk-shaped Washington Monument to ancient precedents. The exhibition cleverly engages an unfamiliar segment of a widely known collection to impart obscure history about our nation’s capital and its famous symbols. A Collector’s Eye opens Dec. 17 at the National Museum of Asian Art. asia.si.edu. Free.
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