Saatchi Gallery to host exhibition of 150 artefacts before their permanent return to Egypt
The largest number of King Tutankhamun treasures ever to leave Egypt are heading to London for an exhibition which organisers say will never happen again. It was announced on Thursday that the Saatchi Gallery in London will be the only UK venue for a world tour of 150 original artefacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb, 60 of which have never left Egypt before.
The tour marks the upcoming centenary of the sensational discovery of the boy pharaoh’s tomb by British explorer Howard Carter in 1922.
Once the tour is complete, the treasures will be permanently displayed at the vast new Grand Egyptian Museum near the pyramids of Giza. “Please see them,” said Mostafa Waziry, the secretary general of the Egyptian ministry of state for antiquities. “Visit them before they return to Egypt for ever.”
The objects will include a gold inlaid miniature coffin which contained the king’s liver after it was removed during the mummification process, a gilded wooden bed with carved lion feet probably made specially for Tutankhamun’s funeral and a gilded wooden shrine showing intimate scenes of royal domestic harmony.
One of two life-sized guardian statues of the king, which flanked the sealed entrance to his burial chamber, will also be among the artefacts leaving Cairo for the first time. Tutankhamun’s famous golden death mask is not part of the show.
The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb is considered one of the most pivotal archaeological discoveries of all time.
Describing the experience of his eyes adjusting to the darkness, Carter would later write: “Details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold … I was struck dumb with amazement.”
When some of these treasures left Cairo for a 1972 exhibition at the British Museum, a record 1.6 million people visited, forming nightmarish queues.
Treasures from the tomb were last in London in 2007 at what is now the O2. Money from that exhibition, which had around 50 fewer objects than will arrive this year, was used to safeguard Egypt’s antiquities and monuments.
Organisers say the 2020 show will differ from previous ones by focusing on the significance and meaning of the king’s burial items.
Philippa Adams, the director of the Saatchi Gallery, said: “The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb is a timeless story known throughout the world, and this exhibition will present these important historical artefacts in a highly innovative way through immersive displays. We are thrilled and honoured to be hosting this culturally significant exhibition.”
The touring exhibition began in Los Angeles last year and is due to visit 10 cities across the world.
• Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is at the Saatchi Gallery from 2 November 2019 to 3 May 2020.