San Francisco

Tutankhamun Treasures

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

Lent by the Government of the United Arab Republic, thirty-four carefully selected items from the fabulous tomb of the boy king of ancient Egypt who died a consumptive at the age of 19, are shown. (Reign: XVIII Dynasty, ca. 1358–1350 B.C.) Unfortunately, these pieces, interesting as they are, give us an inadequate picture of the special flavor of Egyptian art of the time, although they do reflect the fabulous wealth of the pharaohs and the immaculate craftsmanship of the artists of antiquity. One wishes that enough color photos of some of the graphic arts had supplemented them to better inform lay viewers. Particularly, of those painted coffers (Cairo Museum) revealing the mannered style which developed as the young king, through his artists, attempted a synthesis of the classical canon of the Theban style of painting and more moderate aspects of the lyrically effusive El-Amarna style immediately preceding his reign. Enough small portrait-items are included, however, to give us a personal glimpse of the youthful ruler whose name, due to a peculiar set of circumstances, is synonymous with ancient Egypt. These portraits vary subtly, provoking the question: which is the real king? The rigid likeness of the mummified ruler wearing the names headdress and holding the ceremonial crook and flail on the miniature gold and jewel-encrusted coffin which contained the embalmed viscera of the king—or the softly glowing alabaster bust forming the lid of one of the compartments of the canopic chest.

Elizabeth M. Polley