Coffin of Artemidora from Meir (AD 90-100). Isis and Nephthys are a constant in the iconography. Photo: metmuseum.org
The funerary mask of Artemidora was the most decorated element of the whole set. In contrast to the body art the head appears as the selected support for a more complete composition. We can even distinguish an upper and lower register with their corresponding scenes.
he first thing that attracts attention is the background color: black.
Over this background at each end (left and right) appear a mourning woman. Both present interesting features:
- Unidentified (no name and no symbol)
- Half mane (or short hair) and a tape around the forehead.
- Half naked. They are just wearing a simple skirt.
Funerary Mask of Artemidora. Right side with one of the mourners. Photo: metmuseum.org
Book Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt
Mourners shake and pull their hair on reliefs and paintings from ancient Egypt. They took part in funerary ceremonies in ancient Egypt, contributing to the dead’s resurrection in the afterlife. Hair played a clear role in these rites. In this publication Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín (Madrid, 1968) describes the relation between hair and these rites, and the role hair played in death in ancient Egypt. This book is the publication of her Phd research about the Hair in the Funerary Ceremony of Ancient Egypt.
The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net
In Ancient Egypt a couple of two professional women in the role of Isis and Nephthys were actively involved in the dead’s resurrection. They appear usually at both ends of the coffin, during the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony or, from the New Kingdom, kneeling and offering two globular vases nw at the end of that funerary ceremony.
At the beginning we thought that this scene of the professional mourners offering the vases nw was something exclusive of the New Kingdom and of the Theban area. However we were maybe wrong; Ancient Egypt reveals always something new.
In some tombs from the Old Kingdom and from the Memphite area the artists of Ancient Egypt included an iconography, which remembers that one from later periods and from the south.
That is the case of the tomb of Iasen in Gizah (G2196) from the Old Kingdom. In the funerary chapel, to the left of the niche with the statue of the deceased, there is an image of Iasen seated and facing the offering table. Underneath two unidentified kneeling men are facing the dead and offering nw vases. Their position clearly reminds the one of the two professional mourners at the end of the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, which will become so common during the New Kingdom.
The iconography in Ancient Egypt was not gratuitous. Every image had a reason to be, but also every space.
From the Old Kingdom the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephthys were accompanying the dead until the tomb at both ends of the mummy. The hieroglyphs of the wooden coffins from the Middle Kingdom tell how Isis was located at the feet and Nephthys at the head. This position could be due to a will of reproducing the moment of the rebirth of the deceased.
Later on the art of Ancient Egypt found in the coffin a new surface for including several icons, as the two professional mourners. From the XXI Dynasty became common to include these two female figures upside down in the in the external feet surface of the lid of the anthropoid coffin.
The inner part of the coffin offered also the artists of ancient Egypt a great surface for the sacred iconography. So, what was outside could also be drawn inside. At that point is emblematic the outer coffin of Nesykhonsu (XXI-XXII Dynasty), in whose interior…
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Cartonnages in Ancient Egypt were used over the wrapped mummy mainly for mummy masks and some important parts of the body.
The cartonnage of Irtirutja in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York dates from the Ptolemaic period. In it one can see how the artist of Ancient Egypt dedicated this technique for covering some special parts of the mummy.
The fact of choosing those parts of the anatomy could reveal an intention of including the essential elements in the belief of Ancient Egypt for the dead’s resurrection.
Obviously the mummy mask was obligated, since, among the many faculties the dead had to recover, there were the faculties of seeing and breathing.
The feet of the mummy were covered with two images of Anubis. It seems as if they were inverted, but they are actually dressed to the deceased’s eyesight.
Two images of the scarab with the solar disk were also a grant of the mummy’s rebirth. In Ancient Egypt, the Osiriac resurrection and the solar rebirth were united, in the iconography and in the religious texts.
Image of Nephthys mourning in the mummy of Irtirutja. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.
The four sons of Horus (two at each side of the body) were also included in the composition, They were a personification of the canopic jars, which contained the dead’s viscera, so they accompanied always the deceased.
Finally, the ancient Egyptian artist could not omit two of the most important figures in the dead’s resurrection: Isis and Nephthys, the two professional mourners, who making a mourning ritual gave the faculties back to the mummy…
Tha artist in Ancient Egypt followed the rule of depicting children with the side lock of hair.
However, this archetype so common in the Old and Middle Kingdom, had some changes from the New Kingdom on.
Common mourners from the tomb of Ramose. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: wikipedia
It is specially evident in the mourning scenes. Among the mourners usually some young girls can be seen taking part in the mourning performance, crying and rising arms as their adult companions. These young girls could be depicted in a smaller scale or nudes, showing this way their lower status. Also, according to the canon of Ancient Egypt, they should be represented with the side lock of hair. But from the New Kingdom it did not always follow the rule and some variations were introduced in the way of drawing the chiildhoodin Ancient Egypt.
For instance already in the tomb of Ramose, dating from the XVIII Dynasty, there is a group of common mourners in the funerary cortège. Some of them could be young girls due to their smaller size in the depiction, although they appear with the same long hair and the same clothes as the adults. One of them, however, was really a very young girl, due to the samller scale, her nudity and her different hairstyle: a middlelong hair, fringe and sidelock of hair.
In the tomb of Ameneminet (TT277) from the XIX Dynasty…
Ancient Egypt gives us again a good document. The tomb of Amenhotep, the Gater’s keeper of god Amun, has been discovered in Gourna.
Although it is still too soon for seeing the whole decoration, some images of the walls can help us to imagine how could be some complete scenes.
Funerary procession of Amenhotep, the gatekeeper of god Amun in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo www.thecairopost.com
This is the case of a part of the funerary procession, which can be seen on the right wall of the funerary chapel. Walking to an image of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris there is a depiction of a typical funerary procession of Ancient Egypt: In the upper register two oxen with ropes attached to their horns are moving forwards the West, one man stimulates the animal with a kind of branches (a natural whip), some men are holding the rope, two men are raising their arms, another one is burning and pouring; behind him there is a standing man with a long stick and dressed with a kind of shroud…
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The most evident proof of the importance in Ancient Egypt of Isis and Nephthys in a rebirth process is in the Books of the Day and Night, which describe the journey of the sun god through the sky.
According to the thought of Ancient Egypt, especially during the New Kingdom, Nut was the goddess of the sky, so the sun made a journey through the goddess’ body.
The dusk happened because Nut swallowed the solar disk and during the night he traveled all over the Nut’s belly. The morning after, the sunrise meant that Nut was giving birth the solar disk. That is the iconography that the artist of Ancient Egypt depicted on the ceilings of tombs from XX Dynasty.
But Nut was also Osiris’ mother and the resurrection of the dead in Ancient Egypt happened because the corpse was assimilated to Osiris, so the new-born was Osiris, son of Nut, who was assisted by Isis and Nephthys.
Isis and Nephthys receiving the solar disk. Book of the Night. Tomb of Ramses IX.Photo: Thebanmappingproject
Taking that into consideration, it make sense that the priests of XX Dynasty included the figures of Isis and Nephthys in the sun disk rebirth. As a consequence the artists of Ancient Egypt had to create a new iconography with the union of the sun rebirth and the Osirian tradition of the two divine mourners.
Among the Ancient Egypt gods, Isis and Nephtys occupied a very important role.
All along our work we have been writing about those two women, who were essential in the funerary ceremony of Ancient Egypt, but what do we really know about them?
Two different ways of representing Isis and Nephtys assisting the deceased: as the two kites (tomb of Sennedjem) and as women (tomb of Nakhtamon). XIX Dynasty. Photos: http://www.osirisnet.net
Ancient Egyptian art shows the two professional mourners always at both ends of the corpse in the cortege to the tomb; they are identified as Isis and Nephtys or as “kites” (according to the legend of Osiris Isis adopted the shape of a kite for giving him back the breath and his virility), but the inscriptions do not clarify much more about them.
There is an important ancient Egypt document, which could help us in understanding better the requirements of these two representatives of Isis and Nephtys for “working” as official mourners in ancient Egyptian funerals: The Songs of Isis and Nephtys (Brisith Museum Papyrus No. 10188)…