TREASURES OF THE GOLDEN PHARAOH EXHIBITION
SAATCHI GALLERY LONDON
by V. Jegatheesan
For a long time now, I have been interested in the history of Egypt, its associated pyramids, the discoveries, and of course King Tutankhamun. Why I have never visited Egypt is a question I have yet to answer myself.
Hence, when I read a newspaper article last November about an exhibition in London on artefacts of King Tutankhamun (or King Tut as he is affectionately known), I decided to make the trip for mid-March this year. The exhibition was to have closed on 3 May 2020. Then came the virus scare, but the exhibition was to be the last tour and I had to see it, so I had to go, and so I did. A few days after I visited, the exhibition closed indefinitely.
The exhibition is at the Saatchi Gallery and if you read the website, you would have been fascinated as well.
Tutankhamun’s Priceless Treasures to Make Final London Appearance
TUTANKHAMUN: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh Celebrates the Centenary of Howard Carter’s Discovery; Unprecedented Collection Coming to Saatchi Gallery in November
Produced by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and IMG, and presented by Viking Cruises
The words ‘Final London Appearance’ struck me. The exhibition was to have gone on to Boston and Sydney and finally to the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo where the artefacts will be placed and never to go on tour again. I chose London, as I had other plans such as visiting relatives, British Museum etc. But two days after my Saatchi Gallery visit, I cut short my trip and returned home.
This description is only of my visit and of the artefacts with some explanations. It is not a detailed study of King Tutankhamun and Egyptology.
Access was scheduled in batches each half hour and so you bought the ticket according to when you want to go. You could spend any length of time and so could be passed over by crowds of later batches.
There are 150 artefacts on display in vitrines over two floors. Of these, more than 50 artefacts are travelling out of Egypt for the first and last time. Each artefact was described on a panel below. The exhibition is really of objects involved in the journey of King Tut to the afterlife and immortality. I had ordered an audio guide and when I asked, the Reception staff were kind enough to lend me a file of the script after I showed them my MV Pass! They also allowed me to scan the pages before I returned the file!
Doctor Tarek El Awady is the curator of this exhibition. His comments are also heard in the audio guide, together with comments made by Howard Carter who led the expedition to King Tut’s tomb, sponsored by Lord Carnarvon. My descriptions include comments from both Tarek and Carter. As a background, Lord Carnarvon was among other things, an Egyptologist and had sponsored other digs as well; he was also a collector of Egyptian antiquities. In 1918, he got a concession to dig in the Valley of Kings. Howard Carter was an archaeologist and worked for him; Alfred Lucas did the restorations.
After a short introductory video, we enter the exhibition hall. As mentioned, the contents of the tomb connected the world the King was leaving behind with everything he would need on the journey and in the afterlife. These were cosmetic boxes, painted trunks, and carrying cases – all filled with beautiful items and a lot of other equipment and weapons.
On the walls are posters quoting spells from the Book of the Dead. This book is a collection of funerary texts consisting of magic spells. These spells are a guide for the spirit of the deceased through the netherworld, or underworld, as it journeys to the afterlife. There is no one Book for all, as each person can have one prepared for him or herself. In the earliest days, it was only royalty who had one but, later, others could also afford to prepare one for themselves.
Below is an example of a spell. It is Spell 144 from the Book of the Dead and tells of the Power of Words. Words are magic and repeatedly speaking the name of the deceased ensures immortality.
The journey of King Tut to the afterlife is really the journey of his Ba, the spirit that travels to the afterlife, while his Ka, the soul, remains with the body. The body is mummified to stay intact for when the Ba returns as a bird, to merge with the Ka for the magic of rebirth. To quote Tarek…….. ‘for the ancient Egyptians, death is not the end, it is a beginning of a journey to an eternal afterlife. That is why there are so many things made for him. He is a traveller. He needed to be well equipped with all he needs for the journey, a mysterious journey as no one knew what it is like. Each artefact has a purpose’.
The entire philosophy and theory is vast and too complicated for a quick study, and I will not go into the details. Furthermore, there are so many artefacts to show and describe, so I will just give a few interesting samples. The ambience in the galleries was dark with low lighting and the artefacts had lights shone on them. Taking pictures was a challenge but I managed by taking my time. At one point, someone politely whispered to me…’you are not the only one here taking pictures you know, excuse me’! I only gave a smile in return.
There is a display of vases as you enter. In the one on the left, there was residue of perfumed oil, oils being important in their rituals. The vase on the right has inscriptions about King Tut and his wife Ankhesenamun. She is actually his half-sister, and her mother was the renowned Queen Nefertiti. It was normal tradition in Egyptian Royalty for marriages between siblings.
Next is a collection of painted wooden containers for food for the Ka, or the soul of King Tut. Since the Ka is said to remain in the tomb, it needs to be fed. Food would include breads, meats, grains, spices and fruits.
The red box below has ebony, gold leaf, and bronze on it, as well as cartouches of King Tut. A cartouche is an inscribed oval on an item with the name of the pharaoh to which it belongs. The box is among 50 elaborate boxes serving as luggage for King Tut’s journey.
And you thought only Australian Aborigines had Boomerangs?
Below is the wooden armchair for King Tut. He was King at the age of 19 years, so the furniture made for him was smaller than usual. The footstool is of ebony and ivory from sub-Saharan Africa and the wood is probably cedar from the Middle East. Such was the stretch of their influence. The chair is also ebony and ivory with gold leaf. The gilded wooden bed next to it is ebony covered in gold leaf.
An interesting ritual, not shown of course, is the weighing of the heart. The deceased’s heart is placed on a scale and countered with a feather from the goddess Maat. If the scales balance, the heart was deemed sin-free by Osiris. Osiris is the Egyptian Lord of the Underworld and Judge of the Dead. If not, the heart would be eaten by the goddess Ammit who is part crocodile, hippopotamus, and lion. The heart is very important and is left behind in the mummy while other organs are removed. It was believed to be the centre of intelligence as well as feelings and was needed in the rebirth.
Below is a statuette of Amenhotep III, the grandfather of King Tut. Interestingly, a lock of hair belonging to his wife, Queen Tiye, was found together with this statuette. The lock of hair thus dates to 3400 years ago!
This truly beautiful artefact is a canopic coffin (coffinette). It stands 10 inches (25.4 cm) tall and contained King Tut’s liver. Designed as a replica of his sarcophagus, it consists of a lid and box. There are four coffinettes inlaid with gold, coloured glass, and carnelian, and they contained the viscera of the pharaoh. The viscera are the liver, stomach, lungs, and the intestines. The four coffinettes are each placed in a jar closed with a calcite stopper. The jars were then placed in an elaborate canopic shrine (not displayed). The coffinettes bear the likeness of the King so that his Ba will be able to recognise him.
This gilded wooden shrine-shaped box shows scenes of King Tut and his wife Ankhesenamum, and it is made of wood encased with thick sheet gold. The scenes are of various episodes in the life of the King and Queen. Such life-experience scenes make it feel as if it were yesterday. Being in the tomb, King Tut wishes that such an afterlife with his Queen would await him.
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