Homage to an Enlightment Man: Emir Maurice Chehab

Nelida Nassar  08.29.2013

The Lebanese National Museum will honor Emir Maurice Chehab the first director of the Direction Generale des Antiquitees (DGA) from 1924 to 1980. It will be the celebration of a prominent archeologist, a humanist and scientist, indeed, a man of vast culture but, above all, our Lebanese Talleyrand, a national hero. We are indebted to him for saving the National Museum of Beirut, that great repository of Lebanon’s cultural and archaeological heritage, during the Lebanese Civil War (1975 – 1991).

Inaugurated by the Minister of Culture, Mr. Gaby Layoun, the occasion encompasses three premieres and auspicious metaphors:  the inaugural of a room dedicated solely to and named after one single individual, the first such one at the National Museum of Beirut; the opening of the Hygieia room with its rearranged and restored  mosaics by Isabel Skaff and her team as well as added new discoveries from different regions across Lebanon; and a pioneering event for Lebanon and the Middle East  in which science meets art.

Hygieia’s room will be renamed as Emir Maurice Chehab room. Situated on the West side of the museum, since 1942, date of the official opening of the National Museum it has housed the third century roman statue of Hygieia found in Byblos. Hygieia, “hygiene,” daughter of Asclepius the God of medicine – is the goddess of personal health and cleanliness. She is also the goddess of both physical and mental health. Hygeia could not be a more propitious figure to associate with the Emir, who hygienically protected each piece of the museum’s holdings but was also the guardian of the social welfare of all
the Lebanese.

Hygeia’s room hosts twelve stone and ten mosaics among which the mosaic of “Good Shepherd” from Jnah. Another appropriate metaphor for  the good shepherd Emir, the savior of the National Museum.

This visionary and man of science would not have been more proud than to witness the interface between science, technology and art that will premiere in his room with a new app dubbed Al Mathah. Its novelty in its current form resides in its computational capabilities, engineered by Professor Mariette Awad at AUB department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and her student researcher Yara Rizk with the layout design provided by Derail.org. The app encourages museum curators to create digital archives of their artifacts, opening the door to virtual recreations useful in cases of natural disasters or wars for countries constantly threatened by political instability such as Lebanon. With the app installed on a smartphone, a museum’s visitor can take pictures of artifacts of interest in the Hygieia room, soon to be renamed Emir Maurice Chehab room, and then send them for object recognition to the cloud. Once the object is identified, the server sends a list of media files related to the object in question, for the user to select from and thus learn about this specific object in a more entertaining and educational way.

Join the National Museum of Beirut and its Curator Anne Marie Afeiche on this unique occasion to celebrate our common heritage and our innovative technological talents in honor of Emir Maurice Chehab.

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