The physical space in which an ancient Egyptian plastic production is located is essential to analyse it.
Reliefs, paintings and statues of ancient Egypt we know come mainly from temples and / or tombs, that is, from sacred spaces impregnated with spirituality.
Serdab with the statue of Ti. Mastaba of Ti in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo.
The art of Ancient Egypt was not “contemplated”.
The tombs were houses of eternity that remained closed in perpetuity (except for receiving the funerary cult) and the temples were sacred constructions to which only the royal house and the priesthood had access. Therefore, the mural scenes and sculptures of Ancient Egypt were not conceived for being contemplated.
Egyptian artists did not think of a spectator,..
The king in Ancient Egypt, despite his solar nature, was also a human being. After dying, the pharaoh became also a corpse, so a mummy.
Therefore it was inevitable to asimilate the dead souvereign with Osiris. And he required also a resurection following the belief of Ancient Egypt. Even Akhenaten needed it.
Sarcophagi of Hatshepsut and Amenhotep II.
Royal sarcophagi in Ancient Egypt needed also protection for the Pharaoh in the same way particular coffins did. For that reason, Isis and Nephthys, as the mourners of the dead Osiris, were present also at both ends of sarcophagi of kings of the XVIII dynasty.
But what happenend during the Amarna Period?
Isis, Nephthys and later on also Serket and Neith were essential in the regeneration sphere. They, as women/goddessees, played a crucial role in the process of resurrection in Ancient Egypt.
Canopic chest of priest of Montu Pady-Imenet. Neith pouring water on Qebehsenuef, the son of Horus who protected the intestines. XXII Dynasty.Luxor Museum.
For that reason, ancient Egyptian artist included their images in every funerary artefact related with the mummy (at both ends of coffins and sarcophagi, in canopic shrines, ushabti boxes…).
Nevertheless, what happened under the reign of Akhenaton? During the Amarna Period the official religion changed into a kind of monotheism. The only officialy worshipped divinity was the sun disk Aten and every old divinity disappeared, included the goddesses.
How did they managed the matter of the resurrection and the women/goddesses involved in it?
The most important female figure in that period of the history of Ancient Egypt was Nefertiti. She had a higher status than former royal wives did, even in religion.
Sarcophagus of Akhenaten. Cairo Museum. Photo Mª Rosa Valdesogo.
Not only she had her own role in the cult to the Aten, iconography shows how it was considered that Nefertiti had a reviving power in herself.
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Let’s start with that: women were crucial in Ancient Egypt for the dead’s resurrection.
The rite of the professional mourning ritual in ancient Egyptian funerals was based on the Osirian theology.
That happened becasue in the belief of Ancient Egypt the dead (Osiris) was regenerated thanks to aid of his wife/sister Isis (and by extension of his sister/sister in law Nephthys).
She was able to recover many vital functions to the corpse: breath, movement, virility…Not for nothing the image of Isis (and of Nephthys) was present in funerary artefacts (coffins, sarcophagi, caponic chests…)
Goddess Nephthys from a coffin in Brooklyn Museum
We also know that in some moment of the history of Ancient Egyp that regenerating role was responsibility also of Serket and Neith. They formed with Isis and Nephthys a group of four goddesses who contributed actively to the dead’s resurrection. That is why, their images were present in funerary furniture (sarcophagi, ushabti boxes, canopic shrine…).
hat shows how important were women/goddesses for the dead’s resurrection from a professional and official point of view. Their status in this sphere was high enough to become indispensable.
What happened in the Egyptian thought in this regard during the Amarna Period? Under the reign of Akhenaton these divinities disappeared from the pantheon. However, the need of a resurrection did not disappear.
Funerals, mummification, tombs… still existed. But what happened with the concept/image of women/goddesses, who performed a role in the resurrection?
In Ancient Egypt the iconography on the walls of the tombs were crucial for the dead’s resurrection.
The iconography in the tomb of Tutankhamun was strong enough for granting the king’s regeneration. Both, the scenes and its emplacement had a sense.
Orientation of the Tutankhamun iconography.
The ancient Egyptian artists selected for this king a group of images which evoked the first moment of Tutankhamun’s regeneration. So, his entrance into the Hereafter granted his resurrection, and therefore, his eternity.
But also the artists selected the emplacement for each image.
The orientation of the Iconography in the Tomb of Tutankhamun..
If we observe carefully the decorative ensemble we note two main parts: the east side and the west side.
The tomb of Tutankhamun needs to be seen as an historical document.
Nowadays everyone knows about Tutankhamun. His mummy, his funeral mask, his golden sarcophagus, his jewels, his spectacular furniture … are familiar to anyone.
But this familiarity towards the figure of Tutankhamun and his tomb does not always mean true knowledge.
The Tomb of Tutankhamun is a testimony.
The objects are so spectacular that sometimes they have shaded its true meaning. These objects are more than just forms with precious materials. They are testimony to Ancient Egypt, its religion, its belief.
The tomb of Tutankhamun is a historical document with information on the burial practices of the ancient Egyptians and on their conception of the Hereafter. To discover this information we have to contemplate the treasure of Tutankhamun as an ensemble of elements together with the tomb conceived to ensure eternal life to the pharaoh.
Thanks to the tomb of Tutankhamon we know that many objects deposited in the burials of Ancient Egypt followed a concrete order for a concrete aim.
The meaning of Tutankhamoun’s Treasure.
In the “Treasury” the Egyptian craftsmen made three key elements:
The tomb of Tutankhmun is more than a mask, a mummy, Howard Carter… It is an historical document with lots of useful information about the funerary belief in Ancient Egypt. Let’s focus now on the funerary chamber.
The decoration of the funerary chamber.
The funerary chamber of Tutankhmun is the only decorated room in the tomb. The decorative program is not the typical one for a royal burial in Ancient Egypt. Starting from right to left, we find a secuence of images with contains a logic.
On the East wall the funerary cortege is dragging the mummy of Tutankhmun on his sledge to the tomb. That is, Tutankhamun is being taken to the world of the dead; he is facing the first moment of the death in Ancient Egypt.
On the North Wall, the Egyptan artists depicted, on one hand,…
Iconography proofs the existence of a mourning practice in Amarna.
Specially relevant is the Royal Tomb, where the funeral of Meketaten, the royal daughter, was depicted.
The death of Meketaten was lamented by the royal family, that is Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the three sisters, Meritaton, Ankhesenpaaton and Neferferuaton-ta-sherit, but also by a group of mourners.
These scenes of lament in Amarna were sculpted in rooms alfa and gamma and they merit to be observed in more detail.
Let’s watch first at the mourning scene in room alfa.
Here the scene of lament happens in two registers.
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During the reign of Akhenaten, iconography coming from tombs of Amarna show mainly scenes of the “living ones”: Sculptors in the workshop, worship of the Aten, the activity in the palace, the royal family in the “Window of Appearance”…
Depictions relating the death are just a few. Here we will mention the tomb of Huya.
The corpse of Huya inside his coffin is standing…
Funeral of Huya depicted in his tomb. Photo: Amarna Project.
During the reign of Akhenaten many things changed in Ancient Egypt. The new Pharaoh modified the artistic canon, his residence, the religion, the cult…but what happened with the death?
Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their three Daughters. Altes Museum in Berlin. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo
Those ancient Egyptian people from Amarna…did not die? Yes, they did, there was a cemetery. There were also mummies and coffins.
People continued being buried into tombs; and the walls of those tombs were decorated with reliefs. That is, there was a funerary art and a funerary architecture. A mortuary practice existed.