Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the Saatchi Gallery is currently exhibiting a wide collection of artefacts, many of which have never before been outside of Egypt.
It will be the last time these priceless exhibits will tour internationally and so for many, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them. Previous exhibitions have showcased 55 of King Tut’s funerary artefacts, but the Saatchi gallery is proud to display 150.
Scheduled to open in 2021, the Grand Egyptian Museum will be the final resting place for these artefacts and will be the largest museum in the world to be dedicated to a single civilization with 5,000 Pharoah artefacts on display. It promises to be a spectacular sight.
But, for now, the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London offers a small glimpse into what this might be like.
The Saatchi Gallery is a grand building in the centre of Duke of York’s HQ with a lovely, open green space in front of it. Getting to the gallery is really easy; situated in Sloane Square, the nearest tube station is a 4-minute walk away. We visited on a Sunday, which meant partial closures on the District Line and so we walked from South Kensington station, which is only 15 minutes away.
Tickets need to be booked in advance, which you can do through Ticketmaster. It’s a definite sell-out so be sure to give yourselves a couple of weeks. The closing date for the exhibition is 3rd May.
Security is pretty strict too, so be prepared for your bags to be searched. There is a cloakroom available once you’re inside the gallery, but the prices are a little steep. Certain items are restricted, such as luggage and scooters.
The experience starts with a short movie which helps to set the scene, telling you about Howard Carter and the young King Tutankhamun.
You’re then led through into the first exhibition hall where you’ll see a variety of different artefacts in glass cases scattered throughout the room, including an ivory pen case, delicate pottery and boats that escorted King Tut to the Netherworld.
As you proceed through the exhibition, the artefacts become more impressive, including a canopic coffinette which was used to store Tutankhamun’s liver. The coffinette is inlaid with gold, coloured glass and the semi-precious stone carnelian.
Throughout the exhibition, there are panels detailing what’s in each glass case, video clips on repeat showing items in their full glory with snippets of information, and more detailed panels talking about Egypt mythology.
The atmosphere was reverent, with visitors calmly and respectfully moving through the rooms. Many had paid the additional £6 for an audiobook and stood admiring the pieces on display as they listened.
While the exhibition was pretty full, and there were quite a lot of people in each room, it rarely felt overcrowded. Each room was big enough that it allowed freedom of movement and I particularly enjoyed how easy it was to take photos and read panels without feeling like you were in anyone’s way or vice versa.
In the centre of one of the larger rooms you could see the jewellery and decoration that had been found in one of the mummy’s layers of wrapping, including gold inlaid hands holding the crook and flail.
Alongside this display, you could also see gold finger covers, gold sandals, and the nails used in the sarcophagus. I think this was the only time it was difficult to get to the display case. It took up a large portion of the room and people were crowding around it to get a better view.
A personal highlight for me was the crook and flail which almost didn’t look real. It was hard to imagine it being made and gifted to the dead Pharoah over 3000 years ago.
The last few rooms of the exhibit were focused more around the discovery of the tomb and the jewellery that was found within, including the gold inlaid pectoral, chain and counterpoise that was made famous by Hussein Abdel-Rassoul, a waterboy at the dig who was photographed wearing the piece.
The final room of the exhibit contains a huge stone carving that was once inscribed with King Tutankhamun’s name. However, in an attempt to remove King Tut from history, his name was replaced with King Ay, whose name was also later replaced by his successor.
It was an amazing experience and one that left me in awe of the ancient Egyptians. The evidence of their sophistication spoke volumes through each and every artefact on display which was just incredible.
The whole exhibit gave a unique insight into the death ritual and beliefs of this long-lost civilization and has left me wanting to visit Egypt and see them alongside the iconic death mask.
My only disappointment was that we didn’t learn more about the young king and how he died. I’m sure those with the audio guides were given a much more in-depth and immersive experience compared to those of us who were left reading the plaques.
At the very beginning of the exhibition, you’re introduced to the ancient Egyptian belief that every person dies twice; once when their body dies, and a second time when the last person speaks their name. Considering King Tut was once scratched from all the records, destined to be forgotten, he has since become the most famous Pharoah in history, destined to be remembered forever.