Who Framed King Tutankhamun?
The genesis of the golden boy-king mythos as exhibited between 1922 and 2022 in relation to Egyptological development with a focus on Dutch reception
By Fania M. Kruijf
This project investigates how the story of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV 62) and its contents was created, i.e. framed, developed, and presented to the public between 1922 and 2022. This study is based on the Tutankhamun objects displayed in the permanent and traveling exhibitions. An object is framed with relationships to other objects, people, media, places, and exhibitions. This project aims to research those interconnected stories, evaluate the relational influence between Egyptology and the displayed Tutankhamun, and challenge the persistent emphasis on the world famous story: the treasure aspect has been presented at the expense of a serious archeological find.
The research is divided into two main sections:
1) 1920-1950, focussing on early Egyptology, the object movement from KV 62, and the display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (EMC);
2) 1960-2022, focussing on later Egyptology, the traveling exhibitions, and the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo (GEM).
The first section will be approached from the point of view of the Dutch reception, focussing specifically on the accounts of Dutch Egyptologist Gerard J. Thierry, the first Dutch visitor to KV 62 in 1923. The Dutch reception relating to Tutankhamun offers other perspectives of the history of the find; it highlights sensationalism, colonial bias, and the general worthlessness of Tutankhamun and his tomb in Egyptian history. This section will review the status of Egyptology at the time, the divide that emerged among egyptologists concerning Tutankhamun (which still survives today), the approach to the meaning of scientific value, the built up to the first Tutankhamun display at the EMC, and the establishment of the King Tut-phenomenon central to the second section of this project.
The second section will focus on the King Tut-phenomenon. Today, King Tut encapsulates a money-generating-golden-boy-king-image that is kept alive by the systematic re-use of information and a minute selection of objects and images. The origin of the phenomenon ties to the first section of this project, yet the blockbuster King Tut is one framed and developed from the very first traveling exhibitions in the 1960s onwards. In this section, such exhibitions will be examined resulting in a comprehensive database. The database will allow to examine and measure the egyptological understanding of Tutankhamun through history. Moreover, it will allow a mapping of the utilised and/or omitted objects and data within the traveling exhibitions. The results of this study will be used to benchmark the Tutankhamun display at the GEM where all the Tutankhamun material will be on display for the first time in history.
This project requires an extensive investigation of private documents, archival research of newspapers and museums, examinations of the exhibitions and their catalogues, as well as the published Tutankhamun studies.