Pictures of Tutankhamun

This winter, Christina Riggs is curating an exhibition of Photographs of the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Lincoln. It goes along with her book, Photographing Tutankhamun (coming out next year) and her blog of the same name.

The colonial dynamics of the time were played out through the excavation. The boy king was discovered in 1922, the same year that Egypt, officially, won its independence. He quick;y, became a symbol of the newly resurgent nation (See, for instance, the great books by Elliott Colla and Donald Reid).  Egypt went through its own period of Egyptomania.

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However, as Dr Riggs’ exhibition tell us, the only photographer allowed into the tomb (due to an exclusivity deal with the Times) was the Lincolnshire-born, “yellow-belly”, Harry Burton. Egyptians were keen to see the treasures that were emerging but did not have the chance either to look at them in real life, or to get a copy of The Times.

One way Egyptians might have seen the finds emerging from the tomb was through a small pamphlet published by Saleh Lutfi on 12 January 1923, by a publisher called “Dawawin Press” in Cairo.

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There were no photos in the book but there were some very elegant pictures by Hamza Abdallah Carr.

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Hamza Carr has been on my radar for quite a while. He was an artist based in Egypt and seems to have been a close friend of Major Gayer-Anderson. If you visit the Gayer-Anderson house in Egypt, almost half of the painting seem to be done by Carr. This contact is probably how he managed to draw the finds in time for a January 1923 publication date. The only other things I can find out about him is that, firstly, he did a set of drawings for a translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo), in 1924. Secondly, he was head of the English language Theosophical Lodge in Cairo in the 1920s.

Simply by virtue of the subject matter and the trouble some Egyptians must have had getting photos of the celebrity king’s possessions, these drawings had quite an impact in Egypt in 1923.

This can be seen in this photo of a play called “Tutankhamun” put on in 1923 at a school in Mansoura.

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It is slightly unclear what is going on in the play. It must be Tutakhamun, wrapped up like a mummy and raising his right hand, but the other characters are harder to identify – some are in ancient Egyptian dress and others in modern dress.

What is obvious, however, is that the set design is based on Hamza Abdallah Carr’s drawings (and not on any photos or on seeing the objects).

When you look at the actual cow bed and Hamza Carr’s drawing together, it seems quite clear that the set designer is basing the bed on Carr.

The source of the design becomes much more obvious when we look at the strange object on the right of the stage. It must have been based on this drawing from the book:

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In fact, it can only have been based on this drawing in the book. Firstly, as the text underneath explains, this object is a perfume vessel that is only 40cm tall. Spinal tap style, they seem not to have checked the exact measurements before building the prop.

Also, if you look at the actual perfume jar, there is no doubt that they could not have ever seen it:

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So, if you can, I advise that you go to Lincoln to see the photos from inside the tomb of Tutankhamun that the Egyptians did not get to see at the time.

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