The achievements of Egyptian culture of the pharaonic period have dazzled the western world ever since the ancient Greeks made their first acquaintance with the land on the Nile. With the early nineteenth-century decipherment of the hieroglyphs, the large-scale archaeological exploration of the monuments of Egypt and the foundation of collections of Egyptian antiquities, pharaonic Egypt became an organic element of general culture all over the world. New discoveries in the land of the pharaohs continue to make headlines in the journals and there is no year without a major travelling exhibition of pharaonic art fascinating tens of thousands of new fans of ancient Egypt.
As opposed to pharaonic Egypt before the conquest of the land by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, the culture of Egypt under Ptolemaic (332-30 BC) and Roman rule (30 BC-639/646 AD) remains largely unknown and generally unappreciated. The social context, chronology and international context of the art of these periods remained obscure and Coptic art, though generally celebrated as a very special chapter of art history, is especially poorly understood.
The exhibition catalogue intends to illustrate the new assessment of Coptic art as an organic part of Mediterranean late antique-early Byzantine art. Another principal aim of the wide-ranging research work was to place the objects in a possibly firm chronological and style-historical framework.