Tutankhamun's Painted Box

The Front

The front of Tut's painted chest

The front of Tut's painted chest, Cairo Museum © Nile Muse 2003
enlargement

Tutankhamun's painted chest was predicted by Howard Carter to "probably rank as one of the greatest artistic treasures of the tomb." The excavators said they could hardly tear themselves away from it.1

There is no front or back since the chest's lid is not hinged, but simply lifts off. This side currently faces away from the wall at the Cairo Museum. The panel on this side depicts Tut in his chariot facing right trampling Asians. A closeup2 reveals that Tut's mouth turns downward in a look of serious determination as he aims his arrow.

Both horses leap forward rearing on hind legs, wide eyed without blinkers. The near horse's tongue hangs out. Slight shading darkens all the lower legs of this perfectly matched team of chestnut horses with pale red cropped manes. Intricate painted details of the horses' blanket are slightly raised, with gold flecking in the pale details, like gold dust.5 Rings, stripes, dots and tassels decorate the blanket. Plumed headdresses rise from caps on the crests of the horses' necks.

Each side of the casket, as Carter referred to it, features a miniature tableau only about nine inches high. Carter effused further:

"Its outer face was completely covered with gesso; upon this prepared surface there were a series of brilliantly coloured and exquisitely painted designs—hunting scenes upon the curved panels of the lid, battle scenes upon the sides, and upon the ends representations of the king in lion form, trampling his enemies under his feet. The illustrations (Burton's photos)… give but a faint idea of the delicacy of the painting, which far surpasses anything of the kind that Egypt has yet produced. No photograph could do it justice, for even in the original a magnifying glass is essential to a due appreciation of the smaller details, such as the stippling of the lions' coats, or the decoration of the horses' trappings."
…They remind you of…the finest Persian miniatures…" 1

v.1-12 | Front of box | Chest Lid | Back of Chest | Chest Ends ] Next: the Lid »

NOTES:

  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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