A London exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings by British archaeologist Howard Carter is drawing large crowds to admire the 150 masterpieces belonging to the king before they return to Egypt.
London is the third leg of the world tour of “Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh,” which opened in March 2018 in Los Angeles before travelling to Paris, where it became France’s most visited of all time with an attendance of more than 1.4 million.
With tickets selling for up to $50, the exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery is Britain’s most expensive.
The proceeds will support the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which is opening this year. When the show completes its tour of ten cities, Tutankhamun’s artefacts will return to Egypt and become a permanent display, never to again go on tour, the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities said.
Tickets in London have been sold for half-hour slots throughout the day and far too many visitors are packed into each time slot. The crowds trying to read the brief but informative descriptions of the artefacts in large glass cases detract from an amazing collection of unique objects housed in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Tutankhamun (reigned 1333-1323BC) was the 11th pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt. Uncertainty surrounds Tutankhamun’s death. He may have been assassinated or died as the result of an injury received while hunting. He became famous because his tomb was intact when it was discovered in 1922.
The discovery of Tutankhamun’s mummy revealed that he was about 17 when he died and was likely to have inherited the throne at the age of 8 or 9. He was the son of Akhenaten, known as the “Heretic King” because he replaced the traditional cult of Amun with his solar deity Aten.
When Tutankhamun ascended to the throne, his administration restored the former religion. The current exhibition features images of the hawk with a gold solar disc on its head that represents Horus.
The exhibition focuses on the numerous objects created more than 3,300 years ago by Egypt’s top craftsmen for Tutankhamun to take with him to the afterlife. Egyptians believed that Tutankhamun would face a daunting passage through the 12 gates of the netherworld before reaching paradise. Hundreds of objects were placed in his tomb to help him on the journey.
The sumptuous selection features scale models of wooden boats to help him navigate, vessels of translucent white calcite, a bed with lovely lion paws, a dainty portable board game, bows and staffs inlaid with precious stones and decorated with falcons and cobras.
Gold dominates. There are gold leaf statues and gold leaf adorns the wooden chests filled with clothes, linens and jewellery. There are food baskets and labels on wine jars that list the vintage and the name of the winemaker.
Tutankhamun has many portraits. Some show him hunting while in others he is riding a tamed beast to a gold shrine on a sledge and crushing his enemies.
He is also depicted with his wife Ankhesenamun. Tutankhamun’s mummy has remained in Egypt but the replica included in the exhibition is brilliant. Tutankhamun is lying peacefully covered in amulets and gold with gold finger coverings and gold sandals, a scarab beetle on his chest.
Small models of shabtis ordinary workers were entombed with Tutankhamun so they could serve him in the afterlife. There are films and cinematic lighting. Full-size replicas of wall paintings in the tomb combine with eerie shadows drawing attention to the inevitability of death and the craving for something beyond.
The final rooms focus on the discovery of the tomb and photographs from the excavation. Quotes from Carter can be heard via the audio guide and in short videos. Special attention has been paid to Hussein Abdel-Rassoul, Carter’s water boy who accidentally uncovered the step in the sand that led to the tomb. Abdel-Rassoul’s son, who works in the Valley of the Kings, is pictured holding his father’s photograph.
At the end of the exhibition, there is a colossal statue of Tutankhamun and visitors exit into the gallery shop with souvenirs ranging from the brilliantly illustrated catalogue to scarab beetles.
“Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh” is at the Saatchi Gallery London through May 3. The exhibition will also travel to Australia, Japan, Canada and South Korea.