Das Geheimnis des goldenen Sarges: Echnaton und das Ende der Amarnazeit.

A report on the Munich exhibition.

by Federico Rocchi

For the convenience of all the EEF-members I'm writing here a personal report on the highly-awaited exhibition of the KV55 coffin trough in Munich (Staatliche Sammlung Aegyptischer Kunst; October 17, 2001 - January 13, 2002) which I had the pleasure to visit about 20 days ago. I won't go into the background details of the object itself, or into the story behind it (a file about that can be found on the EEF BBS (February '01; at URL), or into the debate surrounding KV55. I'll concentrate on the exhibit itself instead. Indications of "right" and "left" are with respect to the visitor.

The first impact of the visitor with the exhibit is at the very entrance of the museum (Staatliches Sammlung Aegyptischer Kunst); here, in the vestibule, a very big torso in white limestone of Tutankhamun (Berlin AMP 1479) from his funerary temple in Western Thebes greets the visitor. Wouldn't it be for the particular lips, the eyes and shape of the head, one would say it was of Amenhotep III. At the right one finds the entrance to the exhibit; at the left the entrance to the permanent collection of Munich.

The first room of the exhibit is rather peculiar; it is made so to give a pregnant feeling of Western Thebes: on three walls many large b/w photographs of the archaeological areas are disposed in a way to get an almost-360? degrees view of Thebes West (TW). The visitor, being at the center of the room, is in the exact point where the photographs were once taken; turning himself around he has the prospectical feeling of being "inside" the panorama. I've never seen such a kind of photographical arrangement for TW and I must say that not only it is useful to see the "locus tragoediae" as if really present there (all the main monuments are described by a black label; I was extremely pleased to see indicated also the spot where the Heqanakhte Papers were found: it has nothing to do with the Amarna Era, but I had never seen the exact spot before), but also to be slowly immersed in the right mood and atmosphere to visit the following rooms. These photographs were taken in the '60s by use of particular techniques, and it is a pity that only a very small portion of the entire panorama has been included in the catalogue. In fact this arrangement is useful because it gives better ideas about the relative positions of the many areas of TW: from el-Qurn to DeM, from DeM to QV, from QV to Main Valley, from Main Valley to Western Valley, from the funerary temples to Malqata and its Isis Temple, from DAN to Asasif and all the zones of private tombs, with all the ancient and modern paths, from Thot Hill to the zones of the workmen's huts, indicating all the essential monuments (even the chapels dedicated in 19th dynasty to Mertseger etc.).
In this same room a small arrangement of about 5 objects (painted pottery) from KV54 are displayed.These (MMA 09.184.82, 09.184.90, 09.184.88, 09.184.252, 09.184.105) are some of the objects discovered by Davis pertaining to the burial of Tutankhamun ("embalming cachette") and now in the MET in New York through the work of Winlock who published them in 1941. At the entrance of this room is also shown the wooden mask of the rishi coffin of Sitdjehuty from 17th dynasty, recently aquired by the Munich Museum. It was obviously displayed for two reasons: first it is a main piece of the Munich collection and second because the typology of this coffin is very similar to that of KV55. It must be sadly said however that the mask was placed in a very high cabinet, so that all but tall persons weren't able to see it properly; also no mirrors have been placed behind it to show the BoD inscriptions that characterize the object. To the honour of the exhibition designers it must however be said that it is basically the only piece badly displayed; all the others are mounted in such a way to facilitate at the maximum the careful observation, a criterion that MUST always be followed in the preparation of exhibitions.

The second room is subdivided into three zones: a central one, with the KV55 coffin, an outer one with many pieces
and a small side-room.
The outer zone presents something special; at the very beginning many nice small objects are shown: the splendid small cartonnage mummy mask found in KV54 (MMA 30.8.231) with its marvellous colors, seven fayence model vases from KV55 (now in the MMA from the Davis' bequest of 1915), the magic brick with seven lines of hieroglyphic text and erased cartouche again from KV55 (Southern brick, Cairo JdE 39640), the famous MMA calcite bowl (20.2.11) which served Hayes in the discovery of Kiya, and about three small pieces (one shabti and two small heads) of Akhenaten. On the other wall were presented one of three Cairo (JdE 39637) canopics from KV55 and a small wooden coffin mask of Tiye (of unknown provenance, now Berlin VAGM 1-92). On the third wall were displayed six golden bands found together with the pieces of the KV55 trough, but not belonging to the trough; they probably belonged to the Cairo lid of the coffin. Also a few pieces of wood from the trough are mounted on the wall; they are in not so good conditions, so it was impossible to place them in their original place. An extremely interesting b/w photo on a wall (unfortunately not included in the catalogue) shows the conditions in which the golden pieces from the trough were found by the restorers of the Munich Museum: I can happily say that the restorers literally have done miracles to rebuild the shape of the trough from what they had available! I know nothing of restoring techniques but my impression is that these pieces have been the nightmares of those in charge of their restoration for months, not to speak of all the semi-precious stones of the glyphs completing the inscriptions on the trough or all the blue and azure tiles of the decoration! Nothing more to say: the restorers have done an extremely good job that will be remembered in the years to come.
In the small side room the famous photo with Davis, Weigall&wife and Ayrton in front of KV55 entrance is placed, with small fayence pieces from the tomb. A nice addition is the diary of Emma B. Andrews, firstly re-discovered by Gardiner, with many precious info about the tomb conditions at the time of the discovery.
The central zone is delimited by four fabric "walls" with the b/w photo of the tomb from Davis' book. These were intentionally placed here to somehow recreate for the visitor the tomb itself, in a parallel with the photos of Thebes in the previous room. Inside the central zone were placed the two parts of the KV55 coffin. It's impossible to describe the feelings and all the very many details perceived consciously or unconsciously during perhaps two hours passed observing the two pieces; I'll say only a few things: the lid was placed almost at ground level, so that it was possible to see (contrary to the display in the Cairo Museum) every minute particulars and details of it; two strange things however revealed itself soon. The left eye and left eyebrow of the lid mask were not present!!! Were they left at the Cairo Museum? And why? Also absent was the lower part (or second part, that belonging to the trough, line 8-12 of Inscription F) of the foot inscription. Again, why? Did they prefer not to take it away from Cairo Museum? The coffin trough, since the vast majority of its wood is lost, is mounted in a plexiglass mould and is placed vertically beside the lid.

The third room contains many pieces: small statues (mainly heads), a few reliefs and a few small objects. I'll mention only some of them. Let me first quote two monuments of prince Thutmosis: the small schist statuette of him on a funeral bed (Berlin VAGM 112-97) and the relief from the Serapeum showing him with Amenhotep III (Munich Gl.93). A very interesting stela (purportedly from the quarries near Amarna, with images of king Amenhotep III and Tiye), that of Sobeknakht, is displayed, near the Munich cube-statue of Horemheb from Karnak. A painted limestone relief of Kiya from Kopenhagen (AEIN 1776) is placed near a similar depiction from Berlin (AMP 31285). A statue of Tutankhamun and a relief from the Amarna tomb of Ay, a few small statuettes of princesses, a few heads of Tiye, Amenhotep III, Akhenaten and Nefertiti and some reliefs showing the very earlier forms of the Aten are present, as well as the famous stela of Akhenaten&family from Berlin (AMP 14145) and the also famous alabaster palette with the names of Aten (Berlin AMP 2045).
This third room completes the exhibition, consisting of about 75 objects.

The catalogue (only in German), as has been mentioned many times on EEF, is: Das Geheimnis des goldenen Sarges. Echnaton und das Ende der Amarnazeit. Herausgegeben von Alfred Grimm und Sylvia Schoske. Heft 10 der Schriften aus der Aegyptischen Sammlung (SAS), Munich 2001, ISBN 3-87490-722-8. 162 pages with very small b/w photos (a few ones in colour), short descriptions of the objects, very good technical treatment of the coffin trough which however should have been documented by many, many more photos, and much more.

A final comment is about the fate of the trough, which will be given back to Egypt.
I really hope that with all these recent important events the very many objects from KV55 can find a better arrangement in the Cairo Museum. It would be wonderful if an entire room would be dedicated to this tomb, with all the objects from it all grouped together and displayed with good scientific criteria.
After all it is a miracle that the trough could survive for so many years to be still somehow available to us nowadays, giving us the chance to speak about KV55 again and once more...

Federico Rocchi

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