Step Back to Ancient Egypt in London

The story of Tutankhamun has fascinated the world for generations, ever since Howard Carter and his team of archaeologists discovered the tomb of the ancient Egyptian king a century ago.

See more than 150 treasures on display at the Saatchi Gallery’s "Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" (to 3 May 2020), before it heads permanently to Egypt.

With so many spectactular antiques on show, the exhibition's curator Tarek El Awady guides us around some of his highlights.

Gold Coffinette
The amount of work that has been achieved in this small object is really amazing. It is a masterpiece of art and represents the perfection reached in ancient Egyptian sculpture. The small and tiny details on the outside of the coffinette leave no doubt that the artist handled this object as if he was making a true-sized royal coffin. On the inside of the coffinette we can see the beautiful inscriptions in hieroglyphics, that assure the goddess’s protection of the king’s liver. It is one of four identical coffinettes found inside the king’s alabaster Canopic chest.

Wishing cup in the form of an open lotus, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK
Wishing cup in the form of an open lotus (© image courtesy of IMG, Laboratoriorosso, Viterbo)

Wishing Cup

This beautiful alabaster chalice was called the ‘Wishing Cup’ by Howard Carter because of the inscriptions around its rim, which represent a group of good wishes for Tutankhamun. Among the wishes we can read: ‘May you live thousands of good years, may your eyes see great (wonderful) things’. So did the wishes inscribed come true? The answer is yes! The name Tutankhamun is the best known name of an ancient king anywhere in the world. Also, he is now the most travelled king; his exhibitions have toured the world and the king has visited many cities – so his eyes have seen wonderful things.

Tutankhamun riding a panther, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK
Tutankhamun Riding a Panther (© image courtesy of IMG, Laboratoriorosso, Viterbo)

Statuette of Tutankhamun on the Back of a Panther

The king is shown standing on the back of a blank panther. According to the geography of the underworld, there is an area that the ancient Egyptians called the absolute darkness. The king had to pass through this area on his journey into the afterlife, and the only way that he could succeed in this is to ride a black panther, because the golden eyes of the panther can see through the absolute darkness. So the king is standing on its back and he is charming the animal by magic to be still. The black panther is also connected to the goddess Mafdet, so it is giving protection and the guidance to the king.

Gilded wooden shrine, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK
Gilded Wooden Shrine (© image courtesy of IMG, Laboratoriorosso, Viterbo)

Gilded Wooden Naos or Shrine

The small golden shrine for the god Amun is a masterpiece among Tutankhamun’s objects. Howard Carter found a stand for a statue – but only a base with two footprints on it, and no statue. Carter believed this was for an invisible god and the name Amun means ‘the hidden one’ or ‘the invisible one’. For the first time, we also see scenes showing love and affection between a king and his queen depicted on an object in a king’s tomb. Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun are walking hand in hand, drinking wine together, and the queen massaging her husband with fragrant ointment.

Ceremonial Shield of Tutankhamun, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK
Ceremonial Shield of Tutankhamun (© image courtesy of IMG, Laboratoriorosso, Viterbo)

Ceremonial Shield of Tutankhamun

Only kings can be depicted as a sphinx, with the wisdom of a man and the power of a lion. The king is shown here devastating his enemies and is being supported by the falcon god Montu, the god of war. The inscription in front of the king’s face assures that the king’s arms will have the power of Montu and that he will fight like him. This one of the objects that is being outside Egypt for the first time.