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Exhibit : Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs

In 1977, I was disappointed to miss the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Unaware of how popular the show was, my family and I arrived in D.C. to find that the line for admission snaked around the building! But luckily for me and others who were disappointed earlier, another opportunity has arisen to see a similar exhibit: Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Noting that a bus trip to the exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia was offered by the Department of Recreation and Parks in our county, my daughter and I signed up.

We saw the exhibit just last week, in late June. It was a great experience but donít be misled: the exhibit does not feature Tutís mummy itself or the nested coffins in which it was placed. As a matter of fact, the majority of the artifacts focused on Tutís predecessors. Nevertheless, itís definitely an exhibit worth seeing if you donít live too far from it. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs will be on display at the Franklin Institute until September of 2007. Then it will travel to London where you can see it from November of 2007 until August of 2008 before it returns to Cairo. Proceeds from the tour will support a new antiquities museum in Cairo as well as archaeological preservation efforts in Egypt.

The ancestry of King Nebkheperure Tutankhamun (known as King Tut) is unclear but current theory suggests that he was the son of Akhenaten and his minor wife, Kiya. Tut came to the throne at the tender age of nine in 1333 BC, during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom. Only a child, he ruled with the assistance of a vizier until he was nineteen when he died quite suddenly. The site of his burial remained a mystery until it was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs features over 130 funerary objects from the tomb of Tut and other royal personages whose tombs were discovered in the Valley of the Kings. About fifty of the artifacts are from Tutís tomb. I thought the most memorable objects in Tutís collection were his jeweled diadem, his dagger and a lovely falcon collar. I was drawn to the calcite vessels and sculptures, especially the stopper shaped in Tutís likeness that fit into his canopic chest. Also of interest to me were a trumpet, a small chair, and a game box as well as an exquisite gold canopic coffinette. Other noteworthy artifacts were an eerily beautiful sculpture of Akhenaten and an assortment of shabti, miniature statuettes of people whose function was to do work for the deceased in the afterlife.

As mentioned earlier, the mummy of Tut and the opulent nested coffins in which it was placed are not present in this exhibit. The mummy and the innermost coffin remain in Luxor in the Valley of the Kings where they were discovered and the rest of the coffins reside at the museum in Cairo (click here to learn how Tutís mummy was interred). The only reference to the coffins in the exhibit is in a brief video that illustrates how they were arranged, one within the other, in the tomb. In the descriptive placards associated with each object, little is told about the technique used to produce these works of art, making it less of an art exhibit and more of a historical or cultural exhibit. Separate from the presentation of the tomb objects was a display of scientific data on Tutís mummy as well as a reconstruction of what he may have looked like. You might be interested to know that the latest CT scans rule out the likelihood that Tutís death was a murder and concludes that he died of an attack of gangrene caused by a broken leg.

One unexpected gem at the exhibit was the IMAX movie entitled Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs. Since we arrived a bit early, we had some time on our hands so we purchased tickets and slipped into the theater just as the movie was beginning. I nearly lost my balance on the steps when I encountered the huge moving scene on the screen. The movie is primarily about how the embalming process was performed on ancient royalty, including reenactments of the process in ancient Egypt and the discovery of the tomb containing forty royal mummies in the late 19th century. I especially loved the way the pharaoh and his wife were realistically depicted and the close-ups of the mummies were fascinating! Narrated by Christopher Lee (Saruman in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy), this documentary put us in the right frame of mind to see the exhibit directly afterward. If you have time to see this show, I suggest you go for it.

If youíre like me, sometimes the gift shop can be just as fun as the exhibit itself but I only bought myself a bookmark featuring a gorgeous calcite canopic jar stopper and some note cards for my daughter. The jewelry and figurines were not as high quality as we would have liked. There were, however, some nice items for kids such as T-shirts and games.

If youíre interested in seeing Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of the Pharaohs in Philadelphia, you must purchase tickets in advance. Tickets are timed and dated and can be bought online, on the phone, or at the Franklin Institute itself. To find out more about the exhibit, click here.

To see a wonderful site presenting ALL of the objects in Tutís tomb, click here.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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