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The King lives - Tutankhamun, Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, The Saatchi Gallery.

"Can you see anything..?"

"Yes, wonderful things." - Howard Carter


In ancient Egypt the way to gain eternal life was for your name to be spoken after your death, allowing you to live on forever. For some reason during antiquity, Tutankhamun's name was erased from history possibly because of his father Akhenaton, who was a controversial Pharaoh of the time, but by doing this, grave robbers may not have been aware of his name so never tried to look for this tomb. The discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes by Howard Carter in 1922 is probably the most famous ever made, unlike so many other tombs discovered which had been plundered by grave robbers, it was almost completely intact and full of a wealth of precious grave goods. The people who tried to stop Tutankhamun from being remembered failed, now everyone knows his name.



Last week I took a trip to the Saatchi Gallery in London to see some of the artefacts found in the exhibition, Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh. Ever since I was little, the mystery and magic surrounding ancient Egypt has always been a fascination. The idea of being an archaeologist and finding anything while digging in the ground is so intriguing but imagine being Carter, breaking through the seal of an unopened tomb for the first time in thousands of years. This great find almost didn't happen, after digging for years in the valley he had found very little but was always sure that something great was waiting to be found and he was right.


The exhibition features over 150 items from his tomb, laid out over five gallery rooms. Over 2000 items were found in total in the tomb so the exhibition showcases barely 10% of what was found yet this was enough to find it slightly overwhelming and you really needed to take your time to work your way around to see each piece. Obviously a tomb is a final resting place for someone who has died, but as it was thought that the soul would live on for eternity, tombs were packed with everything that that person would need to continue "living" including statues of gods for protection, miniature boats with crew for fishing trips, weapons and shields for hunting and battles and pots full of food for their long journey ahead.



In 1922 when the tomb was found it was such a major discovery and caused a great buzz which started or more reignited a trend for all things Egyptian and particularly things inspired by the boy king's tomb. At a time when travel to such exotic lands was still relatively difficult, taking weeks by boat and reserved for the very wealthy, regular people needed to find other ways to inject some Egyptian mystery into their lives.

Replicas were made of jewellery and items that had been uncovered in the tomb and their likeness transferred to decorative objects. The discovery found its way into fashion as you can see below in this beaded evening jacket from 1923 (V&A) and into architecture such as that of The Pythian, built 1927 in New York and of Greater London House, formerly Carreras Cigarette Factory, built 1926 in London and advertising like this Palmolive advertisement from the 1920s.



Design always borrows from history but each new version is slightly different as it will have influences of the time whether it be materials, added contemporary elements or the need for a greater level of practicality than the original historical designs. The first period of Egyptian Revival fuelled mainly by Napoleon's conquests in Egypt, is dated as slowing towards the end of the 1880s , pre-dating Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun by around 30 years, so the "Tut-mania" we see in 1920s was a new design phase containing new elements from the new discovery.


There were so many beautiful things at the exhibition that it is really difficult to pick a favourite, but there were certainly some that stuck with me more than others one of which was this food vessel, any ideas what might have been in it!?



Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh can be seen at the Saatchi Gallery until 3rd May 2020.


Rx




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