Tag Archives: Ancient Egypt coffin

The Dead: An Observer in the Egyptian Art.


Perspective in Egyptian art was special. For us, perspective is the representation on a flat surface of reality how it is seen by human eye. That means that observer is an important element when the artists paints or draw something.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

In Egyptian art the artists had to represent reality, not how it was seen, but how it was.  The Egyptian artisan did not think about depth or vanishing point when drawing, because ancient Egyptian art was not made for being contemplated, but it had a religious purpose.

However in some moment Egyptian art kept in mind the observer’s concept. When the anthropoid coffin appeared in Ancient Egypt, a new surface, with a new shape had to be decorated. This new object offered to the Egyptian artist different spaces for the iconography in the same object.

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Re and Geb also place Isis and Nephtys at both ends of the Egyptian mummy.


We know that goddess Nut places Isis and Nephtys in some Egyptian coffins of the XII Dynasty. That goddess, as mother of these two mourners, decided to put Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head of the mummy.

But that was not always like that in the Egyptian belief.

Some other coffins from XII dynasty and also found in Middle Egypt show that some other gods of the Heliopolitan cosmogony were also involved in that decision.

Feet end of inner coffin of Gua from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Feet end of inner coffin of Gua from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

The inner coffin of Gua, from el-Bersha, presents inscriptions at both extremes of the box. At the feet end we read “Words said by Geb, I have put Isis at your feet in order she weeps you“. At the head end the hieroglyphs show that again Nut is the responsible of placing Nephtys there.

Head end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Head end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

 

 

The coffin of Nakhti from Asyut is different. At the head end of the box we read: “Words said by Ra, I have put Isis at your head in order she weps you and she mourns“.

Feet end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Feet end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

At the feet end we read: “Words said by Ra, I have put Nephtys at your feet in order she weps you and she mourns“.

In the coffin of Nakhti we find two things. On one hand Isis is at the head, while Nephtys is at the feet; the opposite of the expected location. On the other hand, the one who decides that location is Ra, the main god of the Heliopolitan cosmogony.

 

 

The coffin of Sebekhetepi from Beni Hassan has no trace of Isis andNephtys at both ends of the box. Instead of that, Sebekhetepi is in front of Anubis and The Great God Lord of the Sky, which is usually an epithet of Re.

These three coffins date from the XII Dynasty and come from Middle Egypt. The information we get from the inscriptions demonstrates that nothing about this subject was still fixed in the period of the Egyptian history.

Some reflections come to my mind:

  • The Egyptian mourning rite for helping in the dad resurrection was still too unknown and also the role of these two women as representatives of Isis and Nephtys. So what they did or where the were was not so clear for Egyptian  artists.
  • The mourning rite had a deep osiriac origin and was not yet well stablished in Egyptian decoration.
  • The mourning rite and its osiriac origin needed the Heliopolitan cosmogony for helping in that stablishment. Maybe Egyptian priests during the Middle Kingdom were atill looking for the way of combining these two traditions in the Egyptian coffins.

The two Mourners Isis and Nephtys in the Egyptian Coffins of XIII Dynasty.


We saw on 1st April that during the XI Dynasty hieroglyphs on Egyptian coffins show that Isis was supposed to be at the head of the mummy and Nephtys at the feet. 

Later on, in the XIII Dynasty the tendency was the same one. Inscriptions on Egyptian coffins were also embellished with images. One of the best examples is the coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. 

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Head extreme with image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. Head extreme with the image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

There is a group of coffin from Thebes (from el-Asasif) dating back to the XIII Dynasty and whose main feature are their black background colour. They also include some figures: at the head end of the panel there is the false door and at both extremes of the coffin the artists draw the images of two goddesses with her raised arms.

Coffin of Ikhet. XIII Dynasty from el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Ikhet from el-Asasif. XIII Dynasty. At the head end there is the false door and at the head extreme a feminine figure stands with raised arms. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Coffin of Nefnefret. XIII Dynasty from el-Asasif. Isis and Nephtys. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Nefnefret from el-Asasif. XIII Dynasty At both extremes the two feminine images, Photo: www.metmuseum.org

These two women are not always identified, as for instance in the coffin of Ikhet or the one of Nefnefret, but in some cases the hieroglyphs accompanying them says clearly that they are Isis and Nephtys. This is what we can see in the coffin of Entemaemsaf. The woman on the head extreme is goddess Isis and the woman on the feet extreme is goddess Nephtys.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. XIII Dynasty.Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. XIII Dynasty. El-Asasif. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Model coffins are not an exception, because Egyptians treated them as authentic coffins. For instance the model coffin of Teti from the Second Intermediate Period is of unknown origin (maybe from Thebes, although it is not for certain), but it follows the feature indicated above. The coffin, with some spells from the Coffin Texts, has a false door in the head end of the right panel and at the head extreme a feminine figure is standing with her raised arms.

Model Coffin of Teti. Second Intermediate Period. Ancient Egypt

Model Coffin of Teti. Second Intermediate Period. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

In Ancient Egypt the decoration of coffins during the XI and XIII Dynasties could include hieroglyphs and images of these two women at both extremes. It seems reasonable to think that they were Isis at the head extreme and Nephtys at the feet extreme.

But, what happened during the XII Dynasty?…