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.
This rather fine piece is a little over 40cm tall, and represents an ancestor or some sort of revered person. I don’t think the provenance of this piece is entirely known, but other examples have been found in houses or tombs mostly at Deir el Medina dating to the 19th Dynasty.
I don’t think it’s clear what their function was, but one place I looked when looking them up had a drawing of a stela which shows a woman making offerings to a bust like this – so clearly the focus of some sort of ritual.
This example is unusually large and well made, and given how much paint remains it must’ve been particularly vivid and eye catching when it was new. The face has a serene expression that I find compelling, and I like the details like the earrings and the elaborate broad collar.
These two pieces of relief come from the tomb of a man called Dagi, who counted amongst his titles “sealer, sole companion, favourite of the god, director of those who are among the gods”. He lived during Dynasty 11, and was buried at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna in tomb TT103/MMA807.
The primary point of this relief is to provide Dagi with food in his afterlife, and the offering table is certainly piled high with readily identifiable tasty things. He even has a whole stack of bread moulds for the afterlife bakers to make his daily bread in!
The inscription below gives us those titles I listed earlier and the text at the top is part of what the Met Museum calls his “menu” but I prefer to think of as his shopping list! The full grid originally listed with quantities the foodstuffs necessary for his funerary cult.
The relief fragments are now in the Met Museum, acc. no.s: 12.180.244 and 12.180.245
This is the innermost part of the coffin set of a woman called Henettawy, who was a Chantress of Amun-Ra during the late 21st Dynasty (so about 3000 years ago in the Third Intermediate Period). It’s her mummy board, which sat on top of her mummy inside the inner coffin.
I took this photo of the lower half of it because I found the decoration quite striking particularly in juxtaposition with her other two coffins. They are elaborately decorated with gods etc, as is the top of the mummy board, but the bottom is simple, restrained and elegant.
This face was once part of a 9 foot tall statue of the king Amenhotep I, second ruler of the 18th Dynasty. He had several of these set up to line a processional avenue leading up to the temple of Montuhotep II at Deir el Bahri along which a statue of Amun was carried once a year.
Montuhotep II was the king who had re-unified Egypt to start the Middle Kingdom, and the early 18th Dynasty kings were keen to associate themselves with him. By this they were positioning their own re-unification of Egypt as following in the footsteps of their forefather.
The procession of Amun that Amenhotep I was facilitating with his avenue was presumably the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, which later also visited the temple of Hatshepsut and then the many Mansions of Millions of Years of the later New Kingdom kings.
The statue was found in the court of the temple of Montuhotep II at Deir el Bahri, and is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 26.3.30).
These rather fine shabtis and the accompanying boxes came from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuya (KV46), who were the parents-in-law of Amenhotep III so despite not being royal themselves were granted permission for a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. These items belonged to Yuya.
KV46 was found in 1905 by James Quibell, who at the time was working for Theodore Davis. Quibell was also one of the discoverers of the Narmer Palette about a decade earlier. At the time KV46 was the best preserved tomb in the Valley even tho it had been robbed much of its contents were still there.
The shabtis are really lovely quality work. The wood itself looks smooth and like it would feel nice in the hand. The hieroglyphs are neatly incised and filled with paint and the faces are well modelled. I particularly like the broad collar necklace on the left hand one.
Most of the items found ended up in the Cairo Museum, but Theodore Davis was allowed to keep a few bits which he subsequently gave to the Met Museum which is where I photographed these pieces (acc. no.s: 30.8.56, 30.8.57, 30.8.58, 30.8.59a, 30.8.59b, 30.8.60a and 30.8.60b).
When I took this photo in 2015 the label said it was part of a statue of Amenmesse later usurped by Seti II. But the Met Museum website now says that it matches a statue base known to be that of Seti II. New evidence has clearly come to light in the 7 years since I was in NY!
The changing ideas seem almost appropriate – Amenmesse and Seti II are part of a murky piece of Egyptian history that I’ve not really read much about yet. After Ramesses II died he was succeeded by his son Merenptah who despite being 13th son was the eldest to outlive his father.
Once his successor was thought to be Amenmesse temporarily usurping the throne from Seti II, the rightful heir. But more recent scholarship suggests that actually the two ruled consecutively, with Amenmesse taking power in the south but not managing to take the whole kingdom.
The statue was found at Karnak and this head is now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 34.2.2.
I saw this shabti as part of the Met Museum’s exhibition called Ancient Egypt Transformed, but it is part of their permanent collection (acc. no.: 11.150.14) and was excavated at Meir in 1910 by Sayyid Pasha Khashaba who sold it to the museum a year later.
Shabtis are plentiful, a single tomb from later Egyptian history might contain hundreds! This one is notable because it is a very early example – it dates to the early 12th Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom not long after shabtis began to be a part of the funerary goods of the elite.
So it’s not surprising that some of the later standard features are missing – like the text on the front is an offering formula requesting offerings for the deceased rather than the shabti spell requesting the shabti to stand in and work for the deceased.
It also has no hands. Later examples generally have arms crossed on their chests and hold the tools of their trade (agricultural implements or overseer’s whips and flails) but this mummiform figure has his hands underneath his wrappings.
I particularly like the slender elegance of this piece, which probably arises from its maker working within the constraints of the piece of wood he had available. The face is also very striking and finely carved.
This stela was probably found in one of tombs 811-840 in Asasif (which is on the west bank of Thebes near Deir el Bahri). The Met Museum (acc. no.: 30.3.57) have it now – they think it came from one of their excavations in 1929-1930, but bought it from a Luxor dealer (in 1930).
It belonged to Irtihareru, and we see him standing at the far left and far right of the vignettes. He lived sometime in Dynasty 25 or 26. This stela was part of his funerary goods and has an offering formula on it – asking for offerings to be made to sustain him in the afterlife.
The pictures to accompany the text show him worshipping two gods. These are Re-Horakhty on the left, with his name in the two columns of text in front of his sun disk. And Atum on the right, again labelled in front of his crown. The other columns label Irtihareru in each case.
It’s an interesting mix of neat and a bit sloppy. The gods are well proportioned, but Irtihareru has a smaller head than I’d expect. And the labels for the figures clearly weren’t drafted out in advance – on the left Irtihareru’s name spills out of the column designated for it.
The words “ancient Egyptian coffin” conjure up images of gold, of intricate decoration & texts, and of human shaped boxes. But this was not always the case, and earlier coffins (like this one which dates to the early Old Kingdom) can be quite a bit less ostentatious & elaborate.
To start with it’s shorter than you might expect – this is because in this period (c. 2500 BCE) people weren’t laid out straight for burial. Instead they were placed in their graves curled up in a contracted position that’s sometimes referred to as the foetal position.
But don’t mistake it for a cheap or shoddy piece of work. Decent wood wasn’t plentiful in ancient Egypt, so a wooden coffin is demonstrating that you can bury a certain amount of wealth. Even given it was local Egyptian tamerisk wood I imagine it would still make a statement.
It’s also shaped to convey meaning. The long sides mimic the palace facade motif, which is part of the king’s iconography and is also used in the funerary context by more than just the king. The lid is vaulted and this is the shape of the shrine associated with Lower Egypt.
This coffin was excavated by Petrie at Tarkhan in the Faiyum and is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 12.187.54).