Glass is something we rather take for granted in the modern world. We have our windows with large, flat, clear panes; cheap jewellery might have coloured glass to mimic semi-precious stones; food comes in disposable glass jars.
But in ancient Egypt glass was more of a luxury item. Glass working & production were unknown before the New Kingdom, so glass used prior to that was naturally formed in the desert. And even once glass can be made rather than found it’s valued similarly to semi-precious stones.
And it didn’t even really look like our modern idea of glass – if I say “glass vessel” then whether you think wine glass or vase you’ll be thinking see through. But as these vessels demonstrate the Egyptian glass vessels were opaque and look more like painted stone at a glance.
These four date to the Ramesside period, in the second half of the New Kingdom. This was in the middle of the period when Egyptians made glass – it started around the time of Akhenaten and faded out at the end of the New Kingdom, only returning with the Ptolemies.
They are now in the Met museum, the blue one at the back has the accession number 30.8.170 but I don’t have the details for the other 3.
In the reign of Psamtik I, in the 26th Dynasty, the Vizier of Lower Egypt was a man called Bekenrenef. He built his tomb at Saqqara, cut into the cliff face at the eastern desert edge. The stone there isn’t great quality so he lined it with Tura limestone before decorating it.
The tomb was found early in the history of Egyptology, by Lepsius who published what it looked like in the middle of the 19th Century. Sadly before the end of the 19th Century most of the reliefs had been removed from the tomb and dispersed around the world.
It takes a bit of imagination to see it as it was when it was new. The limestone would be gleaming white – this is the same stone as was used for the outermost layer of the Great Pyramid. And the decoration was all painted, blue for the text and reds & yellows for the figures.
The decorative scheme of the tomb was heavy on texts, and light on figures. I believe these are magic spells, and come from the antechamber to the innermost room (which was presumably the most sacred part of the tomb).
It was purchased, along with other reliefs from the tomb, by the Met Museum in the early 20th Century and is displayed there (acc. no. 11.150.50). They have quite a detailed description of the tomb if you expand the “Curatorial Interpretation”: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/549495
Iynaferty (or Iineferty) rejoiced in the title of “Mistress of the House”, which actually just means she was a housewife but sounds rather grander. She was buried at Deir el Medina in her husband Sennedjem’s tomb (and presumably lived at Deir el Medina too!).
Sennedjem also had a fabulous title – he was “Servant in the Place of Truth”, which means he was one of the people who worked on building the royal tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings. Given the richness of his tomb, probably quite a senior figure in the workforce.
This is Iynaferty’s mummy mask and it’s quite beautiful. I particularly like the lotus flower motif on the top of her head. She’s also depicted as having natural hair poking out from the wig, with two little pigtails framing her face. Perhaps a glimpse into contemporary fashions?
It was found in TT1 at Deir el Medina, and is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 86.1.6). It dates to the reign of Ramesses II.
This delightful little piece is only 7.5 inches tall and is inscribed with the name of Merenre I who ruled immediately before the better known Pepi II towards the end of the 6th Dynasty. This makes it over 4000 years old, and despite being that old it’s still in pretty good nick!
It’s made of alabaster and shows a mother monkey cuddling her baby. It’s thought to’ve been a vessel which once held oil or unguents, and may’ve been gifted to a woman of the court by the king. The imagery has connotations of the exotic and of fertility.
It also makes me think a bit of the small alabaster statue of Pepi II on his mother’s knee that’s in the Brooklyn Museum now, but I rather think no Ancient Egyptian would make that link!
It’s not clear where it was found but it is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 30.8.1340.)
The head of this coffin is interesting – at first glance it’s a rather fine piece of work, but as you look more closely you can see it doesn’t look like it was made all in one go! The face doesn’t quite seem to match the surrounding wig, and looks rather nicer quality.
The coffin itself is inscribed for a woman called Heribsenes who lived in the 26th Dynasty, but the Met Museum’s website dates the face to the New Kingdom based on the style. So anything from 500 to 1000 years older than the rest of the piece.
But this doesn’t appear to be a modern frankenstein of a coffin – the wig is nicely shaped round the face, for instance. So this is ancient re-use: Heribsenes (or those burying her) saw this fine old coffin fragment and thought it would look rather nice on her coffin.
It’s not known where it was found, but it is now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 33.5
This is a detail from a stela that was commissioned by a man called Nesikhonsu, who lived during the 26th Dynasty (so around 2500 years ago). He held several titles, including God’s Father – which is a priestly title and is involved in the daily ritual in temples.
The vignette shows Nesikhonsu standing in front of the god Atum. You can see he’s wearing a very fine linen robe with a leopard skin over the top. Leopard skins were worn by Egyptian priests, in particular by sem priests – presumably this was also one of Nesikhonsu’s titles.
If you look closely you can see that as well as all the colour that remains on the stela there are also hints of gold leaf. Atum must once have had golden skin and the giant lotus flower that Nesikhonsu is presenting to the god had golden sepals. It was probably quite garish!
The stela was found in tomb MMA60 at Deir el Bahri, and is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 25.3.210).
There’s something fascinating about damaged and fragmentary statue faces, and I frequently find myself photographing them in museums. They evoke the same feeling as Shelley’s Ozymandias, and I find the look of faded grandeur in the resulting photos compelling.
This face depicts Khafre, the fourth king of the 4th Dynasty and builder of the second biggest pyramid at Giza (put on a higher foundation than Khufu’s so that it would look bigger!). It was probably found in his pyramid complex (it’s now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 26.7.1392),
It’s made of Egyptian alabaster (aka travertine, aka calcite). I particularly like the juxtaposition between the smooth, almost soft-looking, finished surfaces and the rough stone where it has broken apart. It must’ve been beautiful when originally made.
This is a close up of the front of the coffin of a woman called Ankhshepenwepet who lived during the second half of the 25th Dynasty, around 2500 years ago. She was buried in the temple grounds of Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el Bahri, and her tomb was robbed in antiquity.
Around the middle you can see the deceased being led from the far right of the photo towards several divine beings. Thoth leads Ankhshepenwepet away from the weighing of the heart, which you can just see around the right hand side of the coffin as you look at it.
The queue of beings is headed by Osiris with Isis behind him, but I think most of them are the judges from the Hall of the Two Maats. These are the divine beings to whom the negative confessions are addressed as the deceased demonstrates they are worthy to enter the afterlife.
The coffin is now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 25.3.202.
This is a really stunning piece of relief, which came from the temple of Montuhotep II at Deir el Bahri. It was made for the main sanctuary which was built near the end of Montuhotep II’s reign. Even this soon after the start of the Middle Kingdom art has reached new heights.
It’s been carved in low relief and then each hieroglyph has details incised into it and is artfully painted to turn each into a work of art in its own right. If you look closely at the palace facade in front of the king you can see it has lots of delicate crosshatching.
To the right of the scene is Hathor – she was originally damaged on Akhenaten’s orders as part of his focus on the worship of the Aten. She was later restored in the 19th Dynasty but that was done with plaster which has since fallen out again.
It’s now at the Met Museum, acc. no.: 07.230.2, and I saw it as part of the Ancient Egypt Transformed exhibition in 2015.