Navigation

Skiplink Navigation

Main Features

Hero worship returns to Memphis

A postage stamp advertises the "King" (Museum of Communication)

A link between idol worship in ancient history and Elvis Presley postage stamps is currently being explored at the Museum of Communication in Bern.

"Advertising Gods - 4,000 years of devotional objects" is a small but ambitious exhibition, which could also have been entitled "From Memphis to Memphis".

It begins in about 2600 BC with amulets and other icons with religious symbols bearing images of the "creator" god Ptah of Memphis, capital of Ancient Egypt.

Lucky charms

Although all were obviously handmade, these lucky charms are an early example of mass production and were purchased by people seeking protection from their enemies or signalling affiliation to a religious group.

The exhibition then takes its visitors up the present day, via the Assyrian empire of Mesopotamia, with a stopover to see objects discovered in the temple of the goddess Artemis at Ephesus in Ancient Greece.

Another more recent port of call is the abbey at Einsiedeln in Central Switzerland, a place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics wanting to worship before images of the "Black Madonna".

It's this section of the exhibition, which after the coins, miniature statues and other exquisite objects from the pre-Christian era, reveals how art could also become kitsch.

Commercialisation

Since the latter part of the 20th century, pilgrims to Einsiedeln were confronted with more than the saintly images inside the abbey. Commercial enterprises grew around it, selling porcelain mugs and all manner of other souvenirs bearing the image of the Madonna.

One of the exhibition's aims is to stimulate the public into thinking about gods and other idols, by explaining how images were used as a form of advertising by various cultures through the ages.

Appropriately, it ends at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, where the home of Elvis Presley is now a place of pilgrimage for worshippers of the "King", who died in 1977.

Hundreds of thousands of people visit Graceland every year, and the Museum of Communication has assembled examples of the staggering array of kitsch that most of them buy there - including chewing gum, coffee cups, t-shirts and stamps, all bearing the image of Elvis.

"It's a way of promoting the image of an idol just like during the time of the earlier Memphis," says Thomas Staubli, of Fribourg University's Bible and Orient Museum, which loaned most of the older objects on view.

Staubli told swissinfo: "For people in earlier societies and still today, it's important for them to feel the support of the spirit of whatever god they believed in. And we should not forget that the commercialisation is not a recent phenomenon.

"Even in ancient times, traders around the temples were making an income by selling what we now call souvenirs."

The exhibition ends on January 25, 2004.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

In brief

The exhibition begins in about 2600 BC with amulets and other icons with religious symbols.

It covers the "advertising of gods" in Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, Einsiedeln in Switzerland and more recently at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

One of the exhibition's aims is to stimulate the public into thinking about gods and other idols, by explaining how images were used as a form of advertising by various cultures through the ages.

end of infobox


Links

Neuer Inhalt

Horizontal Line


subscription form

Form for signing up for free newsletter.

Sign up for our free newsletter and get the top stories delivered to your inbox.

swissinfo EN

The following content is sourced from external partners. We cannot guarantee that it is suitable for the visually or hearing impaired.

Join us on Facebook!

×