The Ertegun scholars had the great privilege to visit the “TUTANKHAMUN: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh” exhibition on its last journey out of Egypt. The exhibition, produced by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and IMG, and presented by Viking Cruises was at the Saatchi Gallery, inaugurated in its current location in 2008, a fantastic space, famous for contemporary art exhibitions and its support to new artists – a fun contradiction with the Tutankhamun exhibition, consisting of 3345 year-old art, neither contemporary nor new to say the least.
This 3-year travelling exhibition will be visiting several countries around the world and London is its second stop after Paris. The idea behind this grand cross-country odyssey, which will end with the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Tutankhamun’s final place of rest, is to mark the centenary of the phenomenal discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of Kings in 1922.
The time-travelling Ertegun scholars met outside the Saatchi Gallery on a lovely Sunday afternoon and joined the long queues – a proof of the never-ending popularity of King Tut, the boy-king. We were welcomed by a short video on an enormous screen introducing the pivotal discovery of the tomb and giving a historical context to the fantastic objects we were about to see.
The display was divided into several spaces, following certain themes. The collection on display did not contain the famous death mask nor the actual mummy of the young pharaoh – both too fragile to travel – but nonetheless the objects were breath-taking with very informative signs that accompanied them. It was difficult to catch the movements of our eyes as they hopped from translucent calcite vessels to perfect wooden chests and chairs, from the king’s bed decorated with lion paws to his delicate gloves and sandals, from his golden throne to the several shabtis – miniature models of his workers and guards.
We were in awe while looking at his picnic set, bows and arrows, board games, models of boats, statues of all shapes and sizes, teapots, torches, amulets, jewellery of indescribable beauty, a golden model of a shrine with intricate depictions, a 40 cm tall mini-coffin – a part of the canopic chest of several layers that held the pharaoh’s inner organs and finally the scarab that was placed in the space of his missing heart. This was a collection of 150 objects, 60 of which had never been abroad before. The signs informed us about the objects that were placed in the tomb to help the 19-year-old on his journey through darkness in search of light in the afterlife. Tutankhamun had become pharaoh when he was only nine, married his half-sister Ankhesenamun, had two still-born babies and died unexpectedly of poor health. Tutankhamun seems to have been buried in a rather rushed manner by his successor, Ay, and in time his memory was forgotten – the most feared event in ancient Egyptian belief; for it was the repetition of the pharaoh’s name, and his living memory that enabled him to travel through darkness in the underworld.
The last hall showed us the history of the discovery, the detailed documentation of Howard Carter (which is held in the archive of the Griffith Institute at the University of Oxford: http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/archive/) thanks to which we know so much about the burial, followed by the latest technological investigations carried out on the mummy and finally examples of the pop-culture that surrounds King Tut.
All in all, it was a remarkable and very informative exhibition, well put together, in a beautiful exhibition space and the Sunday crowds only supported how important this exhibition is and how lucky we all are to have seen it.