Tutankhamun's coffinette

Visit Tutankhamun at the Saatchi Gallery

Tutankhamun has fascinated the world for generations. As treasures from his tomb go on display for the final time, Kathryn Conway talks to the curator to uncover their symbolism.

When Howard Carter and his team, who were famously being bankrolled by Lord Carnarvon for one final season of excavation in the Valley of the Kings, happened upon the intact tomb of Tutankhamun nearly a century ago, it opened the eyes of the public to the skill and craftsmanship of one of the world’s most sophisticated ancient civilisations.

Now, as more than 150 of Carter’s dazzling finds are showcased at the Saatchi Gallery, visitors to Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh presented by Viking Cruises will be treated to an immersive exploration into the meaning behind the items that were buried with this most famous of Pharaohs. Here, curator Tarek El Awady unmasks a few of the Pharaoh’s secrets with this insight into some of the key items on display. 

Statuette of Tutankhamun on the back of a panther

Statuette of Tutankhamun on the back of a panther
‘When people look at this object, many don’t understand exactly why the king is depicting himself this way. But when you study the geography of the underworld, you see that there is an area that the ancient Egyptians called the absolute darkness. The king had to pass through this area on his journey into the afterlife and the golden eyes of the black panther can see through the absolute darkness. The black panther is also connected to the goddess Mafdet, so it is giving protection and guidance to the king.’

Gold coffinette (top image)
‘The amount of work that has been achieved in this small object is really amazing. It is a masterpiece of art and represents the perfection reached in ancient Egyptian sculpture. The tiny details on the outside of the coffinette leave no doubt that the artist handled this object as if he was making a true-sized royal coffin. On the inside of the coffinette we can see the beautiful inscriptions in hieroglyphics that assure the goddess’s protection of the king’s liver. It is one of four identical coffinettes found inside the king’s alabaster canopic chest.’

Tutankhamun’s Wishing Cup

Wishing Cup
‘This beautiful alabaster chalice was called the “Wishing Cup” by Howard Carter because of the inscriptions around its rim, which represent a group of good wishes for Tutankhamun. Among the wishes we can read: “May you live thousands of good years, may your eyes see great (wonderful) things.” Now, the question is, did the wishes inscribed on the Wishing Cup come true? The answer is yes! The name Tutankhamun is the most known name of an ancient king all over the world. Also, Tutankhamun is now the most travelled king; his exhibitions have toured the world and the king has visited many cities – his eyes have seen wonderful things.’


Gilded wooden naos or shrine

Gilded wooden naos or shrine
‘In the exhibition we have a very interesting object for the god Amun. The small golden shrine is a masterpiece among the objects found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and inside it, Howard Carter found a stand for a statue. But there was no statue, only a base with two footprints on it. Carter believed this was for an invisible god and the name Amun means “the hidden one” or “the invisible one”. For the first time, we also see scenes showing love and affection between a king and his queen depicted on an object in a king’s tomb.

Many scholars have commented on the scenes, which show Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun walking hand in hand, drinking wine together and the queen massaging her husband’s body with fragrant ointment, as an impression of Amarna art (the style of art during the reign of Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten). However, the meaning of such scenes in a royal tomb is still unknown. I believe they confirm that Tutankhamun fulfilled his post as a king of Egypt even though he ascended the throne at a young age.’

Tutankhamun Ceremonial Shield

Ceremonial shield of Tutankhamun
‘Only kings can be depicted as a sphinx with the wisdom of a man and the power of a lion. The king is shown here devastating his enemies and is being supported by the falcon god Montu, the god of war. The inscription in front of the king’s face assures that the king’s arms will have the power of Montu and that he will fight like him. This is one of the objects that is being seen outside Egypt for the first time.’

Tutankhamun is open until 3 May 2020
Adult from £27.10; child from £18.20
Saatchi Gallery, Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, SW3 4RY
[email protected]  | www.saatchigallery.com | www.tutankhamun-london.com

All images courtesy of Laboratoriorosso, Viterbo

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