Discovering Tutankhamun

The exhibition is made possible by The Friends of Isis, Friends of the Department of Egyptian Art.

Discovering Tutankhamun

The Photographs of Harry Burton

December 19, 2006–April 29, 2007

Accompanied by a publication

On November 4, 1922, after a seven-year search, the British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. On November 24 in the presence of his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, he opened the tomb and found "wonderful things." Carter soon realized the enormous task that lay ahead in removing, recording, and preserving the thousands of objects that filled the four chambers of the tomb. He sought the assistance of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its Theban Expedition, which generously lent several staff members, including the photographer Harry Burton. Over the next ten years, Burton photographed many of the more than 5,000 objects found in Tut's tomb, both in situ and in his studio, on some 1,400 glass-plate negatives. In addition to his work in black and white, Burton also photographed many objects in color and made movies of the objects as they were removed from the tomb.

Harry Burton (1879–1940) was trained in art photography in Florence, Italy. In 1914 he went to Egypt to photograph the Theban tombs for the Museum. His masterful use of natural and artificial light, as well as his experience and high standards, make the photographs not only valuable scientific records but also works of art. Burton remained in Egypt after the Metropolitan ceased excavating in 1935, and continued to record the monuments. He died there in 1940 and is buried in the American cemetery in Asyut.

The exhibition includes Harry Burton's spectacular black-and-white images of the entrance passage to the tomb, the opening of the sealed chambers inside, the first view of the contents and removal of the objects, and the beautifully made and decorated treasures that were found. The four chambers of the tomb were crammed with objects such as gold-covered chariots; elaborately inlaid furniture and chests; a vast array of the king's personal belongings, including jewelry; a series of shrines and coffins that protected the king; and the famous solid-gold mask that adorned his mummy—one of the most iconic examples of ancient Egyptian art ever to have come to light.