Tutankhamun and the Splendours of Ancient Egypt at the Arts Society

The Arts Society Salisbury’s April lecture was given by Christopher Bradley on Tutankhamun and the Splendours of Ancient Egypt.

Fifty years ago, many of us were captivated by the 1972 exhibition of Tutankhamun’s treasures at the British Museum. Last year was the centenary of the discovery of those treasures by Howard Carter and Lord Caernarvon and 2023 will celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the tomb for the first time in 3,000 years.

The darkness revealed vast riches from antiquity which, among other influences, spear-headed the design iconography of the emerging art deco movement. Tut-mania affected everything from jewellery and fashion, to architecture and design.

In life, Tutankhamun ruled for just a few years during a chaotic period of upheaval and was so unimportant that he did not even make it onto the famous List of Kings created less than a century later. Yet, in death, the more than 5,000 precious objects crammed into the smallest royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings, have become some of the world’s most iconic works of art.

Prior to the father of Tut becoming Pharaoh, every king was depicted as looking pretty much the same. Amenhotep IV changed all that and statues became more of a likeness. More importantly, he removed worship of all the ancient gods, changed his name to Akhenaten and declared himself the only god.

He married Nefertiti, left Thebes to establish his rule from a new ‘garden city’ of Amarna where he ruled for 10 years. He had six daughters with Nefertiti but one of his concubines gave birth to Tutankhaten.

At the time of his father’s death, Tutankhaten was just 10 and in the second year of his reign, he changed his name to Tutankhamun and restored the ancient gods. His reign was short as he died aged just 19.

Howard Carter had no education but loved art. At 17, he was employed as a tracer of Egyptian art and hieroglyphics and was the first to add accurate colour to his tracings.

He went to the excavations at Amarna and introduced himself to Flinders Petrie, an archaeologist. He worked for some years as an overseer and when a contract finished would sell not only his paintings but also antiquities.

Theodore Davis held the contracts to excavate the Valley of the Kings between 1905-14 at which time he considered the Valley to be finished.

Lord Caernarvon, who spent his winters in Egypt, was an amateur Egyptologist who employed Harold Carter for general work. Carter persuaded him to purchase some of the unused concessions.

After WWI, Carter returned to the site and in 1922 he discovered the first step leading to the tomb. When asked what he saw, the first time he looked inside the tomb, he said it looked like some backstage props in a theatre.

Only 20% of the items found in the tomb were specifically attributed to Tut, the rest had probably belonged to Nefertiti. It took Carter 10 years to catalogue all the artefacts and it was his meticulous approach that ensured that they were in such good condition.

There was, of course, much mention of the tomb’s ‘curse’. Not so much a curse as a fungus… wall paintings were not put onto plaster but straight on to the limestone which encouraged a fungus which would last for 3,000 years. On the ground, pieces of bread had also caused spores. Undoubtedly, some of the deaths would be as a result of their inhalation.

Howard Carter died in 1939 of Hodgkins Lymphoma: not the curse.

The Arts Society Salisbury’s next talk will be given by Dr David Haycock on The Art and Life of Paul Nash at 1:55pm on 9 May at St Francis Church, Beatrice Road, SP1 3PN.

Dr Haycock is an established freelance art historian and curator who is best known for his 2009 book, ‘A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War’.

Paul Nash was one of the most important British artists of the 20th century. He united the pastoral and mystical tradition embodied by English artists such as William Blake and Samuel Palmer, with the modern European movements of Futurism, Surrealism and Abstraction.

Based on the lecturer’s books, Paul Nash (2002) and A Crisis of Brilliance (2009), this lecture explores Nash’s life, from his discovery of the English landscape as a young boy, through his artistic education at the Slade, to his experiences as an official war artist during both world wars.

For further information, visit and facebook: The Arts Society Salisbury.

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