Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh: what not to miss at London's Tutankhamun exhibition

As Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh presented by Viking Cruises arrives at London’s Saatchi Gallery, we take a look at what to expect.Thursday, 31 October 2019

A trove of over 150 treasures will be on display at the exhibition, including jewellery, furniture and statues.
A trove of over 150 treasures will be on display at the exhibition, including jewellery, furniture and statues.
photo by IMG

We’re nearing the centennial of the most significant archaeological discovery of our time. Tutankhamun’s tomb is still the only ancient Egyptian royal tomb ever discovered (mostly) intact. In light of the centennial of its discovery, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has allowed the boy king’s treasures to travel abroad one last time.

With more than 150 objects, this is by far the largest collection of Tutankhamun artefacts ever to leave Egypt. From jewellery to furniture and instruments and statues, many of the treasures were preserved as the tomb remained hidden for thousands of years. Each work is a masterpiece. Among the highlights is the Guardian, who stood guard outside the king’s burial chamber and became the striking face of the discovery, now on its first journey out of Egypt. 

The mystery that surrounds Tutankhamun captures peoples’ imaginations around the world. A boy who ruled a vast kingdom yet died at a young age, his story has us searching for answers to many questions. We still don’t know his full story — it’s this powerful intrigue that has sustained our interest for the last 100 years.

England has a special place in Tutankhamun’s story. The expedition to Egypt and the tomb’s discovery were funded and led by British explorers, and millions turned out for previous Tutankhamun exhibitions in London, including at the British Museum in 1972. Now, the country has one last chance to celebrate that legacy in an exhibition three times the size of earlier shows, before his treasures are installed in the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza. In addition, and of special interest to British visitors, the show focuses on the story of the 1922 discovery by legendary British explorer Howard Carter.

 

Detail of Tutankhamun's miniature gilded coffinette, which, despite being only 10 inches tall, is an enduring icon of Ancient Egypt.
Detail of Tutankhamun's miniature gilded coffinette, which, despite being only 10 inches tall, is an enduring icon of Ancient Egypt.
photo by IMG

Three exhibits to look out for

Tutankhamun’s gold coffinette
An enduring icon of Ancient Egypt, this golden miniature coffin is adorned with Tutankhamun’s most characteristic features: flecks of deep blues, swathes of gold and rock crystals for his eyes. It was found inside a golden canopic shrine, and, upon opening, the team discovered the king’s mummified liver, wrapped in linen bandages (the liver will not be on display). It was allegedly placed under the protection of the goddess Isis and Amset. Just 10 inches tall, the coffinette’s size by no means lessens the power it symbolises: in one arm he holds a flail to represent royal power; in the other, he’s grasping a crook to reflect the king as a shepherd to his people.

Guardian statue of the king
Meet the gaze of one of the statues that flanked the sealed entrance to Tutankhamun’s chamber where his mortal remains lay hidden. The defining features of the life-size figure have all become synonymous with the boy king’s tomb: the black resin body (symbolising the fertility of the Nile), the gilded bronze headpiece (representing Re-Khepri, the god of the morning sun), the arch of the eyebrows and the ominous spear in his hand. This is one of the exhibition’s highlights, and is the first time the life-size figure has ever left the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Gilded wooden shrine
There were many naos (shrines) positioned inside the tomb, each designed to inform the king’s journey into the afterlife, but this small wooden exhibit, measuring just 50.5cm by 32cm, is an ode to King Tut and his wife, Ankhesenamun. Carved into its exterior walls, crafted from wood and gold, are intimate scenes of domestic harmony. Inside the shrine, there’s an ebony pedestal standing alone, once thought to have held a statue that’s long since disappeared.

Essentials

Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh presented by Viking Cruises opens at London’s Saatchi Gallery on 2 November for a limited run. General adult admission from £24.50, plus fees. For tickets, please visit tutankhamun-london.com

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