King Tut in Dublin

I was watching the first of the Mummy films on television recently (Brenadan Fraser, John Hannah and Rachel Weisz) which reminded me of a piece I had written last April after visiting the Tutankhamun exhibition in Dublin. Unfortunately it also reminded me of one of my worst nightmares: being trapped in a tomb as the entrances gradually close….. 

Tutankhamun: An appointment with the Boy King at the Royal Dublin Showground

I finally got around to visiting the Tutankhamun exhibition at the RDS (Industries Hall) last weekend (using the money off voucher that I have mentioned previously!) and somehow managed to avoid long queues. Obviously Sunday morning was a good time to pick. The leaflet recommends booking in advance to avoid queues, but you’d be as well not to waste your money on the booking fee (why line Ticketmaster’s pockets unnecessarily) and just go along.

Tutankhamun's gold mask

An Iconic Image…

For anyone who’s not heard of this exhibition: it features accurate reproductions of over 1000 objects that were found in the pharaoh’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings by Howard Carter’s 1922 expedition (financed by Lord Carnarvon). Apparently it took him a further ten years to carefully catalogue all of the contents of the tomb. Most of the original artefacts no longer leave Egypt on tour due to their fragile state so this display was conceived as a way of allowing people to ‘see’ the pharaoh’s treasures. The reproductions were created using appropriate materials and techniques to be as similar in appearance to the original pieces as possible.

The exhibition begins (after you’ve been issued with headsets for the audio parts) with a series of text boards giving visitors a crash course on Ancient Egyptian history and locating Tutankhamun (18th dynasty, about 1333-1323 BC) within the chronology. There is a map showing the location of the Valley of the Kings and a brief illustrated account of Carter’s expedition. A Perspex model shows the layout of the tomb chambers and the entrance location. After this introductory section visitors are shepherded into the next room to watch two films, one on Tutankhamun’s family (opinion is still divided about his parentage) and the other one about Howard Carter and the discovery of the tomb. And then it’s on to the main part of the exhibition…

Here you see the burial chamber, treasury and ante-chamber accurately reconstructed from Howard Carter’s detailed notes and drawings, just as they would have been found when the expedition first laid eyes on them. Undoubtedly it was a huge undertaking to create and put together these pieces. We would have liked to linger awhile at this point, but the audio tour prompts you on from one case to another without much time to dawdle. There was such an amazing array of articles placed in the antechamber alone that it takes time to absorb all the detail.

I have since found this video on You Tube, uploaded in 2009 by Art Museum Jourmal, which gives a fascinating glimpse into the tomb’s discovery.

The next part of the exhibition is a display of the items found in the tomb and here visitors are free to wander around, using if you wish the audio guide that’s included in the cost of entry. The highlight of the exhibition is the young king’s gold death mask which has become such a world famous image since the original artefacts were first lent to tour museums in 1972 -79. The four coffins are truly spectacular, as is the sarcophagus and the jewellery found with the mummified king. The workmanship of all of these reproductions is impressive to say the least.

Since visiting the exhibition I have been mulling over my impressions of what we saw and I still haven not come to a firm conclusion. Does it matter that what you are seeing isn’t ‘real’ when the items have clearly been made with such attention to detail?  Does authenticity matter? After all, most of us may probably never manage to visit Cairo to see the originals. It is a weird sensation hearing Howard Carter’s diary account, where he wonders in awe whether Tutankhamun really sat on the chair in front of him, while knowing that you are just looking at a reproduction and not the genuine article. How Postmodern is that?

Having said all of that, the pieces in the Tutankhamun exhibition are visually stunning and I now know more than I did about the Boy King because recent research is presented here as well. On balance, I would say that exhibition is certainly worth a visit. And for a fascinating footnote, I came across a BBC News Middle East report about Tutankhamun’s stolen bronze trumpet and how its recovery was attributed to the famous curse…..

This piece on the Tutankhamun exhibition was previously published on 23/4/2011 on http://www.campusdig.com

Picture Credit: Ticketmaster event page.

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