The union of Re and Osiris supposed a challenge to the Ancient Egyptian Art, since new iconography was needed for decorating the tomb walls and the papyri.
From the XVIII Dynasty, some passages of the Book of the Dead were introduced in the royal tombs decoration and that meant to depict moments and gods from the Myth of Osiris into a royal space. However the monarchy was assimilated to the sun god, so some Osirian images suffered a solarization. That forced the ancient Egyptian artist to think of an Osiris-Re iconography.
The mourner (left) and Isis the kite (right) in the decorative program of Sethos I.
We saw that in the XVIII Dynasty the figure of Khepri rising up between two images of a kneeling Osiris was the image of the first hour of the Amduat. But the Osirian world was maybe too important in ancient Egyptian belief for reducing it just to this iconography. The conception of the dead god, which resurrected thanks to the action of two women (Isis and Nephthys) was maybe too stablished in the ancient Egyptian thought.
Not for nothing in the XIX Dynasty Sethos I introduced Osirian iconography in royal monuments and he did not forget the two professional mourners…
The union of Re and Osiris in ancient Egyptian culture produced as a result new decorative motives in the ancient Egyptian iconography.
The earth god and the sky god needed to be reconciled in religious scenes and from the New Kingdom artist worked in creating new depictions of this mixed conception of ancient Egyptian religion.
In the Book of the Amduat Re in its journey had to unite with Osiris in the depths of the night and receive the power to be reborn in the morning. This idea written in hieroglyphs needed its iconographic reflection. Here ancient Egyptian artists from XVIII Dynasty started their brainstorming.
One of the main challenges for priests and artists in Ancient Egypt were to combine the osirian and solar cosmogonies in the funerary literature and iconography.
Ram-Headed mummy (Re-Osiris) with Isis and Nephthys. Tomb of Nefertari. XIX Dynasty.
The two main pillars in the belief of resurrection in Ancient Egypt were the myth of Osiris and the solar theory. The central aspect in the first one was the resurrection and new life in its most human version: a human body (Osiris), which needs to be embalmed and revived for the eternity. In the second one the stellar body (the sun-Re) did a cyclic trip through the sky; it died in the night and sailed in the solar bark through the dark sky; in the morning after the sun came back to life renewed plying the clear sky.
In Ancient Egypt both ideologies, due to its importance, were quickly conciliated as two versions of a same concept. In the thinking, ancient Egyptian priests could unite Re and Osiris in the funerary texts through the narrative, that is why, for instance, in chapter 67 from the Book of the Dead the dead Osiris wants to get out from the tomb and get into the solar bark of Re.
What happened in the art of Ancient Egypt?
In Ancient Egypt, virility was an essential faculty for granting the dead’s resurrection.
Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. XI Dynasty. Musée du Louvre
All along my work I have been showing that, among the many practices in Ancient Egypt for reviving the corpse, there was one made by the professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephthys. These two women shook their hair forwards the mummy for symbolising the mythical moment, in which Isis stimulated her husband Osiris and gave him back his virility.
In this sphere I would like to remind an aspect of the Tutankhamun’s mummy: his penis. This pharaoh was mummified with his erect penis, although it was broken from the body after the discovery. Obviously to embalm the corpse of this ancient Egyptian king with an erection was not unjustified. According to Salima Ikram, “it was a deliberate attempt to make the king appear as Osiris in as literal a way as possible. The erect penis evokes Osiris’ regenerative powers”. Yes, it evokes the regenerative power, but first of all it is the best proof of a male living body.
There is always news about artifacts of Ancient Egypt. Now it is the turn of the coffin of “Denit-Ast”. It dates from the Persian Period and it is in the Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.
As Gayle Gibson exposed, this coffin has many oddities in its decoration, which could be a proof of the lack of god masters in Egyptian art during this period of the Ancient Egyptian history.
I would like just to make some reflections on the icon of the snake flying over the corpse. It is a winged cobra with two horns and a solar disk on the head. As Gibson says, this crown is usually associated with the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. But makes sense an hathoric crown here? Could we think on an association of this icon with the goddess Isis?
Isis and Osiris were in the religion of Ancient Egypt the perfect couple. Despite the murder of Osiris, they could go on, Isis could revive her husband and both could have a boy. But Osiris was replaced by Apis.
Isis and Osiris. Relief from Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: fineartamerica.
In the mortuary iconography of Ancient Egypt the union of Osiris and Isis was constant, as symbol of resurrection. However from the Saite Period, this icon suffered a transformation. Apis, the bull god of Memphis, was asimilated with Osiris, becoming after his death Osiris-Apis. And Apis in sometimes occupied the place of Osiris.
That is the case of the stele dedicated to Apis from the Louvre Museum. It dates from the reign of Psametik I and was found in the Serapeum of Saqqara. The god is identified as Osiris-Apis (that is Serapis) Khentamentiu and, following the traditional icon of Ancient Egypt, behind him stands Isis. She is not identified by any inscription, but by the hieroglyph of her head.
Stele to Apis. Reign of Psametik I. Louvre Museum. Photo: wikimedia
It has some consequences…
In the last post it was considered the role of Nephthys in the religion of Ancient Egypt. It is a fact that Nephtys was a very important goddess in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Isis needed her help for granting the resurrection of Osiris; they both Isis and Nephthys formed a perfect team. But it is also a fact that Nephthys in some cases seemed not to be indispensable.
Isis was the real one who stimulated the virility of Osiris.
Isis was the mother of Horus, so Isis was the one who could give a legitimate heir to the throne of Ancient Egypt. Nephtys was also important in that birth, since she was present during this childbirth. So Nephthys assisted her sister Isis.
Isis nursing Horus. Louvre Museum. Photo: wikipedia
The common icon in Ancient Egypt for maternity was the woman nursing her baby, applied by the artist of Ancient Egypt in private and royal art. It is very common the image of a mother suckling his baby in statues and reliefs from private tombs. We find also regular in royal monuments to find reliefs of Hathor or Sekhmet nursing the king; but the image of maternity par excellence in Ancient Egypt for maternity was Isis nursing Horus.
Nephthys was not a mother, but the wet nurse. According to the Pyramid Texts (Pyr. 365) she suckled the king, Horus on earth. So, as in the case of the chilbirth, Nephthys assisted her sister Isis.