The discovery of King Tut’s tomb came at a time when the world was in desperate need of some good news. World War I had just ended as had a global pandemic. This boy-king whose glittering tomb had sat nearly untouched for thousands of years captured the imagination of the public. Journalists descended upon Carter and Carnarvon to see the priceless artifacts, as did royalty and celebrities of the day. Advertisers saw the advantage of the public’s interest in Tut and started plastering Egypt on everything.
Even magic shows!
Egyptian revival style had remained a staple in the architecture of the day and was a major influence on the Art Deco style that we think of when we envision the early 20th century taste – bold lines, bright vivid colors, and repeating patterns incorporating stylized florals. We didn’t see this influence just in buildings, like the Empire State Building, but into clothes and jewelry as well. Cartier and Tiffany produced Egyptian inspired jewelry, some of which looked like it came right out of Tut’s tomb instead of being inspired by it! Egyptian inspired décor once again became all the rage!
The famous symbol of the 1920 and 1930s, the Flapper, drew inspiration for her iconic hairstyle from Egypt as well with her Cleopatra-like bob. Make-up was marketed with Egyptian inspired ads and logos.
The 1932 movie “The Mummy” starring the famous Boris Karloff was directly inspired by the discovery of Tut’s tomb and the “mummy’s curse” since one of the screenwriters had been a journalist covering its initial discovery! He even used the name of Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun as the love interest for the priest Imhotep. During the golden age of Hollywood, mummies and Egypt were a favorite subject, with dozens of films and shows made.
In 1932 Tut’s tomb was finally cleared of all its contents and all the objects were documented and sent to the Cairo Museum. Howard Carter continued to work in Luxor and as interest in Tut waned, he found work as a dealer for private collectors and museums. For his discovery he was awarded the Order of the Nile from King Fuad I of Egypt. He died in 1939 of Hodgkin’s disease.
In 1976 interest in Tut was reignited when Tut’s Treasures traveled through the US on a seven-stop tour. It was the first blockbuster exhibit, and it is believed that over 8 million people saw the boy-king’s treasures, including his iconic death mask. Steve Martin, in 1978, first sang “King Tut” on Saturday Night Live, which went gold.
Tut’s treasures have since toured the world several times and currently reside in the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which is scheduled to open later this year. The boy-king himself has never left Egypt and besides some trips to be x-rayed by archaeologists and researchers has never left his tomb.
Tut and ancient Egypt continue their hold on the public imagination and in pop culture today. Villa Finale’s collection contains many Egypt-inspired collection pieces, can you spot some of them on your next visit?
As an extra bonus, hear how English researchers recreated the voice of a mummified priest using a 3-D printer to bring his vocal cords to life.
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