Victorians and Egyptomania: Enter King Tut, Stage Right – Part Six by Sara Taylor

Interpretive Guide, Sara Taylor


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!

Laurelton Hall (from Wikicommons)

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.

Modern Day

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.

Victorians and Egyptomania: Enter King Tut, Stage Right – Part Five by Sara Taylor

Interpretive Guide, Sara Taylor

The Curse of the Mummy

On April 5th 1923, five months after opening the tomb, Lord Carnarvon died of blood poisoning caused by an infected mosquito bite that had progressed to pneumonia. According to popular legend, the moment he died all the lights when out in Cairo (though power outages were not uncommon at the time) and Carnarvon’s dog howled mournfully at the exact same moment before dying itself. This account was given by Carnarvon’s son, though it is worth noting that he was far away in India at the time of his father’s and the dog’s deaths.

Lord Carnarvon (from Wikipedia)

Speculation about what might have been the exact cause of his death was fueled by newspapers, some of which had been denied exclusive coverage of the tomb, threw more fuel on the fire by claiming it was the “Mummy’s Curse.” Depending on who you talk to, anywhere from four to eight deaths were attributed to Tut’s curse.

The idea of a “mummy’s curse” or a “curse of the Pharaohs” wasn’t a new one and its origins could be traced back to the mid-19th century and Victorian fiction writers, such as Louisa May Alcott, who drew upon this idea that Egypt was a mysterious and mystical place, which went back all the way to antiquity. In 1903 Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, published a book called The Jewel of the Seven Stars which told the story of an archaeologist suffering from the curse of a disturbed mummy.

When the Titanic sank in 1912, rumors of a mummy of an Egyptian priestess being the cause of the sinking resulted in the British Museum publishing flyers for the general public stating that no such mummy had even been on the Titanic. 

So, by the time Tut was discovered in 1922, the general public were more than primed to expect supernatural experiences with anything associated with Ancient Egypt. 

While Egyptian tombs and sarcophagi were covered in protective spells and prayers to ensure a successful journey to the afterlife, curses such as we think of them did not exist in Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians thought it was bad luck to even write down the possibility of tomb robberies and so these formulaic sayings were more along the lines of, “the robber will suffer from a disease that no doctor can diagnose” than “death floats on silent wings to those who disturb the pharaoh’s rest.”

Sarcophagus (British Museum)

Carter himself thought the whole business of “the mummy’s curse” was “tommy-rot” and of almost 58 people who were at the tomb at the time of its opening, its documentation, and the opening of the sarcophagus, only eight or nine deaths were attributed to the mummy’s curse and none hold up under further inspection.