Nearly 100 years ago, in 1922 to be precise, two men, archaeologist Howard Carter and his financial backer and Egyptologist Lord Carnarvon, made a hole in a door of a tomb and found themselves peering into the resting place of a young man aged 19 who had died some 3300 years earlier. Their discovery was to make the young man the most famous pharaoh in history: Tutankhamun.
Tutankhamun was only nine years old when he became pharaoh following the death of his father Akhenaten. He was a frail boy by all accounts, who appears to have had a deformed foot and had to walk with the aid of a cane. His death was probably unexpected and it has been suggested that the tomb in which he was buried was originally built for somebody else; in any event accompanying him on his journey to the afterlife was every conceivable object that he might possibly require.
The Final Tour
Until 3 May 2020 we can see some 150 items at the stunning exhibition devoted to the boy pharaoh at London’s Saatchi Gallery; for 60 of the exhibits it is the first and only time they will ever leave Egypt because when the exhibition ends Tutankhamun’s treasures will return to Egypt to be on permanent exhibition in the new Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza scheduled to open this year.
Some of the exhibits, like a small armchair, would presumably have been made for Tutankhamun’s own childhood. Did he actually play with that exquisite little board game as a child, or was it made specially to keep him entertained in the afterlife? And what about that beautifully crafted small chest?
Food was certainly a necessity – workmen crafted the wooden boxes used to transport it – somebody shaped a container to look like a loaf of bread, another container resembles a duck.
150 original artefacts
Tutankhamun had to have beautiful objects around him on his journey. On display is an exquisite blue jug and lid; there is jewellery and ornaments inlaid with precious stones and enamel, a stunning headdress, a bed with carved lion paws, a pair of gloves, gold sandals, a small boat, figurines, statues, a staff topped today with a photo montage of the ostrich feathers that would originally have been on it.
Overhead screens explain the exhibits and should you chose not to invest in the audio head set a wonderfully clear voice-over also tells the King Tut story.
Gold aplenty catches the light
The whole exhibition has been brilliantly orchestrated. From the moment you walk into the first blacked out room to watch the brief introductory film before progressing through more blacked out but cleverly illuminated rooms displaying the exhibits there is an increasing air of anticipation and wonder.
Gold aplenty catches the light and glows. And to heighten the feeling of almost being in the tomb itself there are full size replicas of the wall paintings; but to lighten the mood and bring a smile in one gallery a version of the popular novelty King Tut song of the 1970s composed to commemorate that decade’s American Treasures of Tutankhamun tour is played.
A tomb of wonderful things
When Carter broke through that tomb door and saw the piles of treasure, he reported back to Lord Carnarvon saying he could see ‘wonderful things’. He never spoke more truly. A young man, destined to be little more than an obscure pharaoh, 3300 years after his death has become the greatest and most famous pharaoh of them all.
Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh: Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, London SW3 4RY. https://tutankhamun-london.com/