The Department of Egyptian and Near Eastern Antiquities, under the aegis of the Department of Archaeology, is responsible for material relating to the cultures of Egypt, Pharaonic and Coptic, of the ancient Near East, and an interesting core of Islamic material. It includes the museum areas of the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, the so-called Staircase of Julius III and the four storage deposits in which such materials are conserved. These are around 10,000 catalogued works, of which around 1,000 are on display.
The historic nucleus of the collections is constituted by the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, founded in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI. This museum brought together the Egyptian works already present in the Vatican until the XVIII century, as well as all the Egyptian and Egyptian-influenced works found in Rome. One of the most significant collections originates from the emperor Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli. The new museum also incorporated the Egyptian papyruses from the Vatican Apostolic Library and the Egyptian antiquities gathered by collectors and antiquarians of the time, including the collection of Silvestro Guidi. An interesting nucleus was added immediately after the foundation of the museum with the so-called Roman Expedition to Egypt (in the years 1840-1841), at the behest of Gregory XVI.
Important collections were added over time, donated on various occasions. Worthy of mention, among others, are those from the Khedivè of Egypt (in 1894 and 1900), the Committee of the Universal Exposition of Turin (1900), the Guimet Museum (1903), the American Academy of Rome (1948), and the widow of Carlo Grassi (1951). The final substantial donation dates from 1999, when the celebrated art historian Federico Zeri bequeathed his collection of Palmyrene portraits, to this day the most important collection of its kind in Italy, and a portrait of the Fayum.
The Egyptologist and Barnabite Father Luigi Maria Ungarelli (1779-1845), one of the first disciples in Italy of Jean-François Champollion and Ippolito Rosellini, was the first “Inspector of the Egyptian Museum”, to whom it owed its first arrangement. After his death he was succeeded by the archaeologist Orazio Marucchi until 1931, and then Alberto Tulli until 1942. The Egyptologist Sergio Bosticco was a valid collaborator immediately after the Great War for many years, until the appointment of Msgr. Gianfranco Nolli in 1966 as Inspector, also with the task of creating a “Biblical Section”, which was to bring together artefacts from the land of Palestine, so as to then extend the Near Eastern area. As a result, in the 1971 Regulations of the Vatican Museums, the “Department of Oriental Antiquities” was established (which incorporated the Egyptian Museum and this new near-Eastern section), which was then further extended with the Deposit of the collection of the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome in 1982.
The Egyptologist Jean-Claude Grenier, curator of the Department during the years 1985-1989, was responsible for the final re-arrangement of the entire Museum, dating from 1989. The orientalist Lorenzo Nigro, curator from 1998 to 2005, dedicated himself in particular to the re-arrangement of the last rooms of the Museum, dedicated to Near Eastern antiquities. Since 2006 the curator has been Alessia Amenta, and in 2008 the department changed its name to that of “Egyptian and Near Eastern Antiquities”.