Tutankhamun's Painted Box

The Ends

One end of Tut's painted chest

One end of Tut's painted chest, Cairo Museum © Nile Muse 2003

At first glance the ends of Tut's painted box appear the same, but subtle design elements and painting style distinguish them. Both ends compose two elegantly symmetrical Tutankhamun-headed sphinxes facing each other, flanking two royal cartouches. The sphinxes symbolically trod and destroy Nubian enemies.

The end of Tut's painted chest with the knob

The end of Tut's painted chest with the knob, Cairo Museum © Nile Muse 2003

The cartouches are essentially the same on both ends, each topped by a feathered sundisc, each surmounting the hieroglyph for gold, although the left cartouches reverse the reading direction, the ancient Egyptian artist always mindful of symmetry. They identify the king's names, "Tutankhamun, ruler of Thebes" and "Nebkheperure." Outspread downwardly curved wings perfectly nest within the arch of the lid ends. Each lid end centers a cartouche with one of the king's names between two cobras.

In the rectangular vignette an arched striped fan rises above each sphinx's back, echoing the curve of the tail. The vulture goddess fits perfectly into each top corner, protectively spreading her wings above the sphinx-pharaoh, holding the shen hieroglyph. Here the design differs slightly on either end in the position of the wings.

The king wears a long wig or a nemes headdress under an atef crown, lean faced and kingly with a golden uraeus (sacred cobra) on his forehead. He also wears an elaborate golden cloak and shawl. Mrs. de Garis Davies noted that, "There are almost invisible details on the claws of the sphinx in yellow paint." 5

The Knob End

The other end with the knob still intact presents a more boy-like king-sphinx with a full face. His round wig is encircled by a blue spotted yellow ribbon whose streamers hang behind. The sphinx wears a striking body blanket of dark stripes and military style epaulettes. Even though the sphinx and the trodden enemy poses exactly match, the style differs from the other side as if the design were concieved by one master but the ends painted by two different artists.

Notice the checkered frame around the story board—it's not really checkered. Instead of diagonnally colored checks like everywhere else on the chest the little blocks look more like a basket weave. Other slight differences include the hieroglyphs and a pair of wings added here under the knob. This artist's unique style shines through the prescribed design. Was a second painter called in to finish the box in haste at the young king's death? Contemplating that mystery provides one more reason I, too, could hardly tear myself away from the 3356 year old exquisite little painted casket.

v.1-12 | Front of Chest | Chest Lid | Back of Chest | Chest Ends ]


  1. Howard Carter and A.C. Mace, The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen Dover Publication, NY 1977. Includes black and white photos of both sides of the lid and the chest in situ by Harry Burton.
  2. William MacQuitty, TUTANKHAMUN the Last Journey, A Quartet book, Crown Publishers, NY, 6th printing 1978. Includes an extreme closeup color photo by MacQuitty of Tut in his chariot facing right trampling Asians.
  3. Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, The Egypt of the Pharaohs at the Cairo Museum, Hatchette Guide Bleus, Paris, 1986. Color photo of the full side of the chest with the chariot facing to the left (Nubians and lions).
  4. David Sandison, The Art of Ancient Egypt, Laurel Glen Publishing, San Diego, CA 1997. Has a full color two-page photo of Tutankhamun's hunting chest lid portraying the animal hunt with the horses hieroglyphs.
  5. The Griffith Institute, www.ashmolean.org/gri/, Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation, The Howard Carter Archives, Photographs by Harry Burton. www.ashmolean.museum/gri/carter/021.html, Carter No.: 021 Notes made by Mrs. de Garis Davies in January/February 1951 on the casket of Tutankhamun.
  6. Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, Life and death of a pharaoh Tutankhamen, New York Graphic Society, Boston, published by Little, Brown, and Co. 1963 6th printing 1976. Color photo of full side of chest with horses facing right, trampling Asiatics; close up of that scene and closeup of the similar scene on back side with horses facing left, trampling Nubians.
  7. T.G.H. James, Tutankhamen, White Sta S.r.l. 2000. Color photo two page spread close up of scene with horses facing left, conquering Nubians.

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