What’s Tut’s great drawing power? Antiquities dealer Sam Merrin, owner of his own $1.1 million mummy and sarcophagus (currently on loan to the Houston Museum of Art), explains: “It’s the only royal tomb found intact, and the quality and quantity of material was unheard of. Then, there’s the curse.” Illness struck several people who excavated the site, but whether it was bacteria or posthumous royal fury is still undetermined. Lastly, notes Mr. Merrin, “kids love mummies; they’re spooky.”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Tut” show, which opened last week, certainly has both the scholarly and the ghoulish touches. “Tutankhamun’s Funeral,” a small but top-quality show, features funerary remains from near the circa 1327 B.C. tomb. There are clay vessels with leftovers from his embalming, pottery used in the funeral meal, linen bandages, preserved collars of flowers and a sculpture of the monarch. The burial relics in the show were a gift to the Met from the New York City–born explorer Theodore M. Davis, who excavated in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings a century ago. He tragically gave up after years of digging, believing there was nothing more to find, when he was within striking distance of Tut’s treasures. The Met’s own employee of a century ago, Harry Burton, photographed the Valley of the Kings for the museum.
Sensitive to concerns that their show could appear to be trying to head the Egyptian loan off at the pass, curator Dorothea Arnold stressed: “We are accompanying theirs. We are friends with Egypt. There is no war going on.” Museums, to some degree, like to stay on the right side of Egypt, since the nation has been among the most vociferous in claiming their relics back from international museums. (They’re still trying to get back the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum, that Napoleon’s army seized in 1799.)
Other exhibition artifact shows are welcome to the party, Mr. Norman said. Of course, they’re not from the hallowed KV62. Only AEI’s exhibition will feature material from King Tut. And why not? As Steve Martin put it: “He gave his life for tourism.”