“Tutankhamun: His tomb and his treasures” is coming to French-speaking Switzerland for the very first time. This must-see exhibition is now showing in Geneva’s Palexpo Halle 7 and runs until January 2014. Transported by eighteen lorries, taking two weeks to set up, and covering three thousand five hundred square metres of space, this extensive show presents the burial treasure in its original layout and is the only exhibition of its kind.
The fate of the pharaoh Tutankhamun was inexorably linked with that of Howard Carter. Had it not been for the stubbornness and conviction of this British archaeologist, the tomb would have remained undiscovered, and Tutankhamun condemned to oblivion. But Carter, who had dug up several objects bearing the name of Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings, was convinced that a burial site lay nearby. He persuaded Lord Carnarvon, an archaeologist and excavation organiser, to finance one last search. On the 4th November 1922, Carter finally discovered a door decorated with the seal of the royal necropolis.
The designers of the exhibition wanted to recreate this moment of discovery and « let the visitor become an explorer » (Rainer Verbizh, the show’s architect and stage designer). The exhibition begins with two films, one devoted to Tutankhamun and his family and the other to Howard Carter, after which we are led into the antechamber, methodically reproduced to scale, filled with replica artefacts – statues, vases, chests, chariot parts – all of extraordinary beauty and craftsmanship. And this is only the beginning of the virtual adventure, throughout which Egypt’s cultural heritage is revealed in each and every object, from ornate chess sets and a luxurious ceremonial chariot through to Tutankhamun’s magnificent gold burial mask.
At two metres and seventy-five centimetres high and five metres long, the gilded wood outer shrine that contains the sarcophagus is the largest item from the tomb of the young pharaoh who died at the tender age of 18. It is a monumental work of art, of exceptional detail. This lifesize reproduction of Tutankhamun’s tomb and all its treasures is the result of five years of work by a team of Eqyptian craftsmen who have skilfully crafted exact replicas of each element of the original tomb. For the exhibition designers, Wulf Kohl and Paul Heinen, who first conceived the idea for the show, it is the incredibly successful realisation of a dream. One of the largest travelling exhibitions ever created, it has already been seen by almost five million visitors in nineteen cities across the world since it was first presented to the public in Zurich in 2008.
Tutankhamun does also present questions about authenticity – this is an exhibition made up entirely of modern-day replicas of ancient artefacts. Rainer Verbizh states that that the authenticity lies in the extensive research carried out, and which accompanies the main exhibits, including analysis of archaeological sources, photographs and written documents. “It was crucial for the spectator to experience the exhibition within the context of the era. As long as the scientific work is well carried out, there will be more and more exhibitions using replicas. Nowadays, with transportation jeopardising the safety of fragile objects, the difficulties of conservation and the overall cost, showcasing original artefacts is becoming inconceivable.”
Text: Marie-Sophie Péclard Translation: Tanya Mayne