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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.