For those who could not join us during our « Tutankhamun » visit that took place in the north-west of Paris, the Espace Culturel Gacha gives you here an exhibition insight.
Head to the Louvre to see The Mona Lisa, take the train to Florence alongside Michelangelo’s David, drink his iced coffee in New York before his unmissable meeting with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. And why not travel to Cameroon to get a close-up look at a sculpture beading details, get to Brazil and appreciate the bright color of the Tupinambas feathered coats or finally contemplate the age-old gold from the Tutankhamun’s tomb treasure in Cairo?
The Toutankhamun exhibition was a huge success with more than 1.4 million visitors in six months. It was an opportunity to get close to an invaluable treasure, found in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter. From the 150 available pieces, 60 left Egypt for the first time for a final international tour. This exhibition, organized by the Ministère des Antiquités Égyptiennes, IMG Company, in partnership with the Musée du Louvre in Paris, will definitely return to the new Musée National of Giza in 2024 – next to the Great Pyramids. Thus, it will now also be require travelling to Cairo to see closely these pieces from the tomb of the most famous pharaohs; unique pieces and covered most of them with gold known as « the flesh of the gods » according to ancient beliefs.
Getting a close up to an invaluable treasure of Egyptology
A century before the discovery of Carter’s tomb by Tutankhamun, researcher Jean-François Champollion, father of French Egyptology, discovered a way to decipher hieroglyphic writing. These ancient tripartite relations between Egypt, France and Great Britain are being updated and reinvented today through « Tutankhamun ».
Historically, the comparison of this exhibition with the one from 1967 at the Grand Palais, « Tutankhamun and his time » – nicknamed « the exhibition of the century » – is inevitable. But the one that has just closed its doors under the roofs of the old slaughterhouses of La Villette has not only received a huge hit with the audience, but has also been able to highlight – under subdued light – a more important number of pieces (150 against 45 in 1967), despite the noticeable absence of Tutankhamun’s funerary mask.
Thus, the exhibition was the opportunity to engage a dialogue with this priceless treasure, witness of a historical discovery that has rehabilitated the image of the Pharaoh once forgotten and today legendary.
See life and death differently
Tutankhamun’s tomb symbolizes the journey – or the ordeal? – from the world of the living to the afterlife. A place invisible to mortals, but in fact very present in their daily lives: thus in the Egyptian antiquity, these borders were subtle. This outer world welcomes souls, gods and pharaohs. The grave is a journey. The pieces present in each room have a value and a particular function referring to the soul journey and the various trials it must go through. The soul is equipped both physically (food, drinks, weapons) and magically (statues symbolizing energy protection, potions …).
The mural paintings in the tomb also depict the story of the dead – shown as a superhuman, non-terrestrial being – crossing the mortal world. The most important thing about this journey is how his soul will wait for the afterlife to continue helping Egypt’s development from the unseen. For the ancient Egyptians, life has no end. Divided in multiple cycles, life is eternal.
Be mesmerized by the different craftsmanship of Egyptian antiquity virtuosity
The death of the Great men was supporting the art of the Egypt Kingdom. It provided specifically, a living to a whole craftsmen village located a few kilometers from the Valley of the Kings, sacred place of burial of the pharaohs. It consisted of stalls of goldsmiths, cabinetmakers, sculptors, painters and architects – a representative panorama of the trades involved in the construction of the royal tombs and their decorations.
These works show a refined know-how combining virtuously the techniques of art, while figuratively telling the life of the deceased pharaoh. Thus, the throne of Tutankhamun is at the same time a paragon of cabinetmaking with its siege body inlaid with gold leaves delicately decorated and associated with pieces of ivory on its reverse; and a figuration of a key political moment in the life of the sovereign: his seizure of power at the age of eight.
The hand-painted calcite chest refers to the royal couple, Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun. The names of the Pharaoh and his wife inscribed in hieroglyphs are identifiable on the sides of the container. Another example of the tomb’s marvels mixing goldsmith and ceremonial piece, this golden fan says « ostrich hunting »:
Presented in a showcase made to measure for the exhibition, this piece highlights not only the finesse of execution on the gold leaf, but also the deep symbolic of the scene. Traditional royal hobby, chariot hunting was practiced by the pharaohs as a demonstration of their power. Here, hunting wild animals can also be perceived as a civilizing vision of the sovereign’s actions, a march towards progress. There is a detail: an Ankh cross – symbol of eternal life – supporting a fan so that Pharaoh gains strength to defeat the enemies of the kingdom.
Sculptures in a remarkable state of preservation
This sculpture of more than two meters in diorite presents a portrait of the young pharaoh. His features were chiseled following various acts of revenge against his image and that of his family (damnatio memoriae). On the other hand, the face of the intact deity retains the canonical features of royal and divine representation: thus, a « soft, feminized face express the common portraits of the dynasty. The almond-shaped eyes, the chin slightly projected forward and the fleshy mouth match quite the features of Tutankhamun’s face as we know them elsewhere. » 1. In fact, the king is the emanation of the divine on earth.
The other monumental sculpture of the exhibition is the guardian of the king’s ka, his vital energy. He is a double protector who accompanies the sovereign all his life. Its black flesh – the same as Osiris’s – is made of obsidian stone. In a remarkable state of preservation, the piece measuring 1.90m is made of a clever mixt of wood and bitumen – gilded and covered with a copper alloy. The symbolic form of the loincloth is perhaps what will strike us the most: if we look at the two angles of this fabric once is lift up, we will be able to see a solar disc radiating towards the interior of the statue; thus illuminating an inner entity, the deep being.
Immersed in the twilight of an enchanting scenography, visitors end their journey under the gaze of the colossal quartzite statue of Tutankhamun, usurped by Ay and Horemheb. Almost three meters high, it is less well preserved from its counterpart at the Oriental Institute of Chicago. On the other hand, the finesse of the face, the harmony of the features of the loincloth, as well as the details of the double crown and the nemes are remarkable: they converse their frank polychromy.
Like the god Amon, divinity with multiple forms, the visit experiences are different. Some will remember the emptiness left by the iconic funeral mask of more than 100 kg of solid gold, present at the 1967 exhibition. Others will regret the Hollywood character of the scenography with its thematic background and a play of dark lighting. However, this will not take anything away from its outstanding success – instilling in everyone a fascination with one of the richest civilizations of antiquity. From where death is bring to life.