King Tut’s first tour and its influence on culture
Tutankhamun, who became a veritable popular icon, only became famous 3,200 years after his death—in contrast with other Pharaonic figures such as Ramses II and Cleopatra—, turning him into a veritable cultural phenomenon, which was dubbed ‘Tut-mania’ (‘Tut’ is the Egyptian king’s nickname, an abbreviation of ‘Tutankhamun’).
The tomb’s discovery had all the ingredients to set off a wave of fascination in the young Egyptian king: the discovery of a tomb that was almost intact, extraordinary funerary treasures, a hitherto little-known pharaoh who died in the prime of his life, and the rumours about a curse. Hence, as of 1922, Tutankhamun experienced a second renaissance, going well beyond the usual Egyptomania, and this time his fame was present in every sphere of life — architecture, the decorative and furniture arts, fashion, music, and even advertising (from lemons to nougat bars and Cleopatra soap).
This ‘Tutankhamun-mania’ was particularly prevalent in the Roaring Twenties, permeating every sphere of society; an example is the German shepherd of the American president, Herbert Hoover, which was affectionately called King Tut. The 1970s, a period during which the traveling exhibition of some of the king’s tomb furnishings was held, saw a revival of the phenomenon, even in the American TV show Saturday Night Live in which Steve Martin sang his song King Tut (1978) live.
Indeed, Tutankhamun and his gold burial mask, a veritable graphic symbol that has been used and adapted on many occasions, have been widely used in music, particularly in clips and during concerts (very recently by the singer Beyoncé). Although these references often have very little to do with the real Tutankhamun and his reign, they do attest to the way in which ancient Egypt in now perceived and, above all, to the impact of the discovery of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in November 1922, shedding new light on the reign of a pharaoh which until that point had been somewhat overlooked.
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