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 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).
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.
Counterpoises like this are often attached to necklaces made of beads, called a menat, which were used like a rattle to make noise during rituals for the goddess Hathor. This one however was intended to have an aegis attached, it no longer exists but maybe depicted Hathor.
An aegis is a collar with a deity’s face above it, and it would’ve been attached so that when the counterpoise was held in the hand to shake the goddess’s face was upright. I assume (but am not sure) that there would also still have been beads to make it a rattle.
The goddess picked out in gold inlay in the top part of the object is called Nebethetepet – she’s associated with Hathor and personifies the original creative act of Atum. The columns on either side of her do have Hathor heads, and there’s a Hathor head above the shrine too.
At the bottom of the object is Horus as a falcon, sitting in the papyrus marshes – a reference to how he was hidden away when young so that Seth couldn’t find him and murder him like he’d murdered Osiris. Hathor was one of Horus’s protectors during this time.
I like the way bronze with gold inlay objects such as this look, with the shiny gold against the warm dark bronze. But it’s important to remember that’s probably not how it looked! The bronze would’ve been shinier in the past and there may even have been colour added.
The counterpoise dates to the Third Intermediate Period or Late Period, and it’s not known where it was found. It’s now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 08.202.15.
The vizier of Thebes at the beginning of the 26th Dynasty was a man called Nespakashuty, and he commissioned a tomb in the cliffs at Deir el Bahri near the temple of Hatshepsut and right in the courtyard of a much earlier 11th Dynasty tomb.
Maybe he intended to be too elaborate, maybe he just didn’t live long enough after work was started on the tomb, but whichever it was the reliefs weren’t completed before Nespakashuty died. Which is nice for Egyptologists as it gives a lot of evidence for how the work was done!
This portion shows how the carving was done in two phases. A team of workers has been along the wall and carved out the outlines of all the elements of the design. None of the internal details are present yet, and none of the cutouts (like the vases on her head) have been done.
In the next phase another team (or the same one, perhaps) would come along and do all of the details that you can see drawn in red paint on the figures. They’d also round off the edges and generally make it all look a lot more finished and ready for the painters.
The tomb is numbered TT312 or MMA509, and there are several pieces of relief from it in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 23.3.468) in various stages of decoration.
This is one of several scenes of butchering that are present on the walls of a tomb chapel that originally stood in Saqqara and dates to the 5th Dynasty in the Old Kingdom (around 4500 years ago). The whole chapel is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.:08.201.1).
Butchering scenes were common in these chapels to provide meat for the deceased person in the afterlife. This one is on the west wall of the chapel, near the false door where offerings to the deceased were placed. So its likely function is to provide offerings in perpetuity.
Despite being a common scene type this example is still unusual. The museum website points out that it’s a stage in the process not normally represented – the cow is part butchered and its ribs are exposed now that the first cuts have been removed.
This fragment of a stela was found in the temple of Montuhotep II at Deir el Bahri, but you can tell from a glance that it must date to a much later period than that – the two figures, of Userhat and his wife Nefertari, show the influences of the Amarna art style.
And the textual evidence backs this up – the text that remains on the stela includes mention that Userhat is a priest in the mortuary cults of both Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun. The names of the kings are not in cartouches, but inside squares representing the temple enclosure.
I love the elegance of this piece and all the delicate details in the depictions of the two people. You can clearly see the difference in texture between Nefertari’s hair and the band she wears across her forehead. Their fine quality linen clothing is also particularly well done.