Sunday, 22 March 2020

Tutankhamun - Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh

I wasn't around for the visit made by Tutankhamun's death mask and other artifacts to the British Museum, in 1972, although I did see the 2007 exhibition at the O2 - so I wanted to see this new exhibition, especially as it is being touted as the last time that the artifacts will leave Egypt.

I booked some time off work in order to be able to travel the evening before, and booked the earliest slot for the exhibition, in the hope that the exhibition might be a little quieter at that time. (which also meant I ended up having a pleasant walk to the gallery in the morning ) 

I was very impressed with the exhibition - it is well thought out, with explanations of the ancient Egyptian's beliefs about death and the afterlife, including quotations from the book of the dead, and explanations of the significance of many of the items on display. 

The artifacts were also very well displayed, with many in free-standing cases so you could see them from all angles, and with multiple copies of the labels which helped reduce congestion as people moved through. (something some other exhibitions I have visited recently could learn from!)  

photo of faded embroidered glove
Embroidered Gloves

On to the exhibits themselves! In the first room, there were food containers, modelled in the shape of the food they had contained (apparently they have been able to analyse some of the contents, and found that things were not always correctly packed, so the wrong foods were stored in some containers!) 

There was then lots of the Pharaoh's luggage - wooden boxes of various sizes and shapes , inlaid with ebony and ivory, and decorated with gold paint and Tutankhamun's cartouche, and this rather nice little calcite box (which held hair believed to be that of Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun, and a pomegranate, which may have symbolised their marriage contract) 

Photos of white (calcite) box with painted decoration of lilies and lotus flowers
Painted Calcite Box
There were other items - I liked a little pen case - made in the shape of a column, inlaid with ivory and coloured glass. It made me wonder - was it for the use of a scribe, or could the Pharaoh himself perhaps write? 

Pen case
Next, there were two model boats - one with a two-storey cabin painted with chequered patterns, and the other with a throne on board, there were gilded figures of Tutankhamun - one of them showed him on a skiff, with a harpoon - it was explained that he was hunting Hippo, but the hippo itself wasn't included, as it was believed that everything put, in model form, into the tomb would exist in reality in the afterlife, and hippopotami are too dangerous to risk including them! 

Horus with solar disk

I loved this beautiful statue of a hawk / Horus, carrying the sun disk (and looking, I feel, a little disgruntled about it) It was part of the decorative fixtures for one of the chariots in the tomb.
Lion head end to bow case

There were two shields, one showing Tutankhamun as a Sphinx, crushing his enemies, and the other showing him hunting lions , and a beautiful bow-case, decorated with hunting scenes, and with two lovely lions heads on the ends.

There was furniture - a beautiful gilded bed (the woven base still almost intact, after 3,000 years). I was interested to read that the board was actually a foot-board, not a head board!

Another of the pieces of furniture on display was a child-sized chair. Tutankhamun was only nine when he became Pharaoh, and suitably sized furniture and other items (bows, sears etc) were made for him, and some of them were buried with him (he was around 19 when he died)

One of the most impressive exhibits, for me, was a life-sized, black and gold statue f the King as Guardian. It apparently symbolises his re-birth as night turns to dawn

head and shoulders photo of statue of  Tutankhamun in black wood with gold headdress

It's stunning,and it looks as though it is a portrait of a real person, the face is very human, relateable. It's stunning. 


This might look like the famous death-mask, but it isn't, it is a miniature version, a coffinette, to hold one of the King's internal organs. This one was, I think, for the liver, and there were apparently others. 

It's about 12 inches tall, and is exquisite, with incredibly delicate decoration, and  hieroglyphs engraved on the inside.

Bust of Tutankhamun - stopper for Canopic jar

Displayed with it was a bust of Tutankhamun, which I think was the stopper for a canopic jar. Like the statue, this seemed to be a real portrait of a real person (and did look a lot like the *same* person! 
'straps' and pectoral

There was then a  model of the inner sarcophagus, on which were displayed gold 'straps' and items such as gold-plates sandals, finger- and toe-stalls (basically, gold-plated false fingers and toes!) as well as golden hands holding the crook and flail.

Pectoral in the shape of a vulture

There were also lots of items of jewelry - pectorals n the shapes of vultures, hawks, scarabs and boats, as well as smaller items.

The exhibit also included information about the excavation and some of those involved.

Alabaster 'Loving cup'

There was an alabaster cup, then, finally,in  the last room,  a stone statue of the King, standing alone. It was originally one of two, and after his death, Tutankhamun's cartouche was removed and replaced with that of his successor

Statue of Tutankhamun

A projection on the rear wall explains that the ancient Egyptians believed that the dead would live on, as long as their names are remembered, and of course, Tutankhamun is now the best known of all the pharaohs.

It is a very good exhibition and I am glad that I got to see it. My Flickr album with more pictures is  here.

Edited to add: The gallery now has a virtual tour available -

The astute will have realised that I visited before we were all advised against travel, and the museums were closed, due to Covid-19.  It was originally due to stay open in London until 3rd May, and  then moving on to Boston and then Sydney. There are also more hotos on the Saatchi Gallery website.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Cyrano - James McAvoy at the Playhouse

I almost missed this - I booked a ticket months ago, but have been unwell with the cold-from-hell-the-will-not-die, and wasn't at all sure that I would be up to a trip to London, but in the end, I decided that I would regret missing it.

I had avoided reading any reviews so had no preconceptions at all. I haven't ever seen the original play, either.

I very much enjoyed the show - there is virtually no set, a bare stage with hand-held and stand microphones, with the actors in modern dress.

The play draws on rap and hip-hop, and beat boxing - it's poetry, knowing, thoughtful, often gleeful and funny, sometimes raw, but almost always engaging and entertaining

There is, of course, the love story between Roxane and Christian, and the unrequited love of Cyrano for Roxane (not to mention the attraction of christian to Cyrano, which I suspect perhaps didn't appear in the original!)

But it is mostly about  the love of language. And it is glorious. 

“I love words. That’s all.”

The run in London run has finished now, but the play was filmed for National Theatre Live, and is well worth seeing if you have the opportunity.