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Man, God & Nature in the Ancient World: Masterpieces from The Al Thani Collection

  • Image of "Head of a Royal Figure, Red jasper, c. 1473-1292 BC, Egypt"

    Head of a Royal Figure, Red jasper, c. 1473-1292 BC, Egypt

    Asian Gallery (Toyokan) Room 3
    November 6, 2019 (Wed) - February 9, 2020 (Sun)

    How did people of ancient civilizations conceive and depict themselves, their gods, and the natural world? The artworks they produced reflect their beliefs and world views, providing us with insights into this question.
    This exhibition presents 117 masterpieces from the collection assembled by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a prince of the royal family of Qatar. Ancient civilizations across the world produced these magnificent artworks, which will be presented under the themes of “man,” “god,” and “nature.”

Highlights of the Exhibition


Chapter 1: Man

As in all periods, ancient man sought to define himself, negotiating the vicissitudes of the natural world and his relationship with the divine. Hierarchies emerged in which rulers and royalty promoted their connections with the gods or supreme forces of nature. Representations of elites promoted their power in life and into posterity. Early portraits are more commonly of men, reflecting gender-based hierarchies in many of these ancient societies, but some women too were seen as worthy of portrayal and reverence.

Ruling classes also projected power by using rare and precious materials such as gold, lapis lazuli and other gems. Their status was revealed by luxury objects and by participation in leisurely activities. Portraits provide an idea of the rich coiffures and textiles of elites in the ancient world.

Mortality was high in antiquity and the question of the afterlife held a universal fascination. Believing in an active hereafter, the Egyptians mummified the deceased. In the Ancient Near East, the underworld was apparently considered similar to this one, but underground, eternal, dusty and dark. The Greeks offered several explanations for the afterlife, including that it was a convivial drinking party that went on into eternity, or simply that it did not exist.

All societies have made offerings to their dead, both monumental architectural statements for commemorating the dead and small, portable objects to buried with the beloved. These touching gifts reveal a humanity that transcends time.

Head of a Royal Figure
Red jasper, Egypt, c.1473–1292 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)


‘Bactrian Princess’
Electrum, white stone (possibly chalcite), shell, chlorite, Central Asia, c.2300–1800 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)

Mosaic Mask
Jade, shell, Guatemala, 200–600 AD
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)


Gold, carnelian, agate, Central Asia, Mid 2nd millennium BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)

Gold, red jasper, glass, black stone (steatite or serpentine), Egypt, 1044–994 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)



Chapter 2: God

Explanations to account for the world and universe were the most primal of all mankind’s major questions. Elements governing both human life and the natural world which were beyond man’s control were thought to be the result of supernatural or divine forces. In antiquity, some cultures were aniconic, producing no images of the forces they identified as their god or gods. While the Egyptian and Near Eastern traditions conceived deities in mixed human and animal or avian guises, the Greeks and Romans took a further step in representing their gods in fully human form.

Throughout long centuries that were characterized by sudden famine, precarious health and incessant warfare, it was considered essential to win divine favour. Pleasing the gods could be achieved by means of constructing temples in their honour, holding religious festivals, and making votive offerings on a regular basis.

Intermediaries between the gods and mankind included priests, who communicated with the gods and led ritual worship. Kings, including the Egyptian pharaohs, considered themselves as representatives of the gods on earth. Heroes were individuals whose conspicuous achievements on behalf of mankind to rid the world of dangerous monsters were rewarded by the gods who extended invitations to live with them in the afterlife.

Alabaster, gold, garnet, agate, coloured stones or glass, bronze, South Arabia, c.100 AD
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)


Marble, pigment, Western Asia Minor, possibly Anatolia, c.3300–2500 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)

The Hercules Agate Vase
Agate, Hellenized East, c.150 AD
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)


Anthropomorphic Container
Gold, Cauca River valley, Colombia, 400–600 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)

Tambourine Player
Alabaster, carnelian, steatite, Mesopotamia, c. 2500 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)



Chapter 3: Nature

This section explores mankind’s interaction with the natural world in antiquity. The availability of plentiful food and drink, now so widely taken for granted, was by no means guaranteed in ancient times. Because the seas were considered hazardous, fish were little consumed and few representations of them survive. The terrestrial animal world is divided between domesticated animals, including pets, and wild beasts, which were sometimes feared or revered for their attributes. Images of animals pervade the ancient world, in religious contexts, as symbols of royal function, and sometimes purely as affectionate observations.

It is in ceremonial tableware that the repertoire of animals is most visible. As metaphors for power, horses and lions are frequently represented; cattle, to be sacrificed to the gods; sheep and goats, to be eaten; deer and antelope, to be hunted. Animals that man admired were also incorporated into jewellery, where they sometimes served a talismanic purpose or associated the wearer with unique characteristics.

Bronze, South Arabia, Late 1st millennium BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)


Nose Ornament
Gold, shell, lapis lazuli or sodalite, green stone (possibly serpentine), Peru, 100–400 AD
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)

Gold, carnelian, white stone, Anatolia, c. 2000–1500 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)


Gilt–bronze, China, 206 BC–25 AD
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)

Cosmetic Bottle
Rock crystal, Egypt, c. 1450–1250 BC
(On loan from The Al Thani Collection)


Photo: The Al Thani Collection

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General Information

Period Wednesday, November 6, 2019 - Sunday, February 9, 2020
Venue Room 3, Toyokan (Asian Gallery), Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours 9:30 - 17:00
Fridays, Saturdays: until 21:00
(Last entry 30 minutes before closing)
Closed Mondays (Except for January 13, 2020),
December 26, 2019 - January 1, 2020, January 14, 2020

Adults: 620 (520) yen
University students: 410 (310) yen

Admission for this exhibition is included in tickets for the regular exhibition and tickets for the following special exhibitions: Shosoin: Essential Treasures of Ancient Japan Passed Down by the Imperial Family (October 14, 2019–November 24, 2019) and Izumo and Yamato: The Birth of Ancient Japan (January 15, 2020–March 8, 2020).


() indicates fees per person for groups of 20 or more.


Adults accompanying children of high-school age and under receive a 100-yen discount on Regular Exhibition admissions. (Valid for up to two adults with each child.)


Persons with disabilities and one person accompanying each are admitted free of charge (please show ID when entering).


Admission is free for senior high/junior high/elementary school students and persons under 18 and over 70 years of age (please show proof of age when entering).


Shosoin: Essential Treasures of Ancient Japan Passed Down by the Imperial Family (October 14, 2019–November 24, 2019), Izumo and Yamato: The Birth of Ancient Japan (January 15, 2020–March 8, 2020) requires a separate admission fee.

Access 10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno Station (Park exit) and Uguisudani Station
15 minutes' walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Ueno Station and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station
Organizers Tokyo National Museum, The Al Thani Collection Foundation, NHK
Catalog The exhibition catalog (2,500 yen) is available at the museum shop.
General Inquiries 03-5777-8600  (Hello Dial)