Tag Archives: mourning

In Ancient Egypt were Isis and Nephthys Essential in Cartonnages.


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.

Cartonnage on the mummy of Irtirutja from Ptolemaic Period. Ancient Egypt. Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Cartonnages on the mummy of Irtirutja from Ptolemaic Period. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

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. Metropolitan Museum of New york.

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…

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An Egyptian Ostracon with a Disheveled Mourner.


Funerals of Ancient Egypt are usually known thanks to funerary scenes from the tomb walls. However, small objects can also give a very useful information.

Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt

Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

That is the case of a limestone ostracon from Thebes and in the Manchester Museum (Acc. no. 5886), which dates from the New Kingdom. An Egyptian artist drew on it an ink sketch with a scene of a funeral.

The scene represents an Egyptian burial (there is a post written by Campbell Price in the blog ofthe Manchester Museum). The plan of the tomb is seen from a bird’s-eye view, while the members of the funerary team and the coffin are shown from a front view (the combination of different visual plans was normal in Egyptian art).

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of common mourners. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of the common mourners. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

Outside the tomb a group of mourners are standing while weeping and a priest is with them burning incense and pouring water. Although it is not too clear, it seems that the artist pretended to draw one of these women with a lock of hair falling in front of her face. It should be pointed out that, while the three others appear with her raised arms, the mourner with the hair falling on her face has her arms hanging down.

Why? Egyptian artists had several ways of representing the lament: tears droping on the face, raised arms, arms crossing on the chest, hands covering the face, hands over the head, hair falling forwards, hair covering the face…Probably the artist who drew this sketch chose to represent three common mourners with raised arms and another one with hair falling on her face.

Common Mourners in the tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt.

Common Mourners in the tomb of Rekhmire. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

In fact, a very similar solution found the Egyptian artist  in the tomb of Rekhmire (TT100), where some mourners are kneeling with their hands on their head, some others are standing with crossed arms on their chests and another one stands also with crossed arms but with the mane of hair covering her face.

Relief from the tomb of Amenemhat (TT 82)

Painting from the tomb of Amenemhat (TT 82)

Also in the tomb of Amenemhat (TT82) we can see a group pf common mourners among who, some raise their arms, some cover their faces with their hands and two make the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards. With them a priests holds an incense burner and a purifying water vessel. The same scene as we can see in the ostracon of the Manchester Museum.

The scene of this ostracon could be considered as an schematic way (or an “ostracon version”) of the nwn gesture made by a common mourner.

The wrong location of Isis and Nephtys in the coffin of Khnum Nakht.


In Ancient Egypt iconography Isis was mainly placed at the feet of the mummy, while Nephtys were at his head. That happened in tomb walls and in sarcophagi.

We have seen that this position was not accidental, but something deliberate. That typical icon of the mummy flanked by Isis at his feet and Nephtys at his head would remain two things. On one hand, it could represent a birth itself, when one woman gives birth (Isis) and being assisted by a midwife (Nephtys). On the other hand, it could refer to the mythical copulation between Isis and Osiris, so the goddess being at his feet would be ready for putting herself over her husband.

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. 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.

But, sometimes, Egyptian art surprises us with some exceptions. Looking at the coffin of Khnum Nakht in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York we realised that the decoration in it did not follow the rule we have said before.

The coffin of Khnum Nakht dates from the XIII Dynasty and comes from Meir (Middle Egypt). The decoration in it includes on the left side of the coffin the false door with the two udyat eyes. That indicates that the head of the mummy was located behind it.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. An image of Isis at the head extreme of the coffin. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

At both extremes of the corpse the artist placed two goddesses. At the extreme of the head appears a goddess with a strange standard on her head carrying two hieroglyphs of the sealed oil jar with unguent mrht or mDt. According to the inscription above, she is Isis the Divine (Ast nTrt).

At the feet of the coffin there is no image, but two paintings of the façade of the palace. However we know this was the place of Nephtys thanks to the inscription.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtys. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtys. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Isis and Nephtys were there, at both extremes of the coffin assisting in the deceased’s resurrection. But it is surprising to watch that they were not where they were supposed to be: that is, Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head.

We do not why, but the artist who decorated the coffin of Khnum Nakht located the feet as the place for Nephtys and the head as the place of Isis.

Was it maybe just a mistake? The coffin is made with an exquisite technique, so the manufacturer was not a beginner. The coffin was decorated by an expert (or a team of experts).

Was the icon of Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head of the corpse still not too consolidated during the Middle Kingdom?…

Three Dimensions of the Ancient Egypt Mourning Rite in a Rishi Coffin.


The distribution of images is clue in Ancient Egypt decoration. Depending on how the scene is ordered and where it is located it has a sense or not.  We have seen how mourning women took up different spaces in a rishi coffin, indicating so two different dimensions onwards the deceased’s resurrection.

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Rishi coffin of Lady Rini from Thebes. The whole lid is covered by feathers. XVII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But there is still a third one: the top of lid. On the exterior of the lid a pair of big wings wrap the whole body[1], these ones are usually identified with the wings of Isis. What is the sense of these feathers?

At the end of the XVII Dynasty the feathers on a rishi coffin symbolizing the Isis’ wings would be a way of remembering the image of this goddess over the corpse of Osiris.

Isis as a kite is over the body of the dead. Statuette of prince Tutmosis, son of Amenhotep III. XVIII Dynasty. Altes Musuem (Berlin). Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Isis as a kite is over the body of the dead. Statuette of prince Tutmosis, son of Amenhotep III. XVIII Dynasty. Altes Musuem (Berlin). Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

In the Egyptian myth of Osiris, Isis, the mourning wife, put herself as a kite over the mummy of her husband for giving him back his breath and his virility. So, we would be facing the highest level outside the coffin as the divine sphere.

coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. Nut outside the lid of the coffin. Early XVIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But due that in the Egyptian belief the upper part of the lid is the divine sphere, this surface accepted another goddess: Nut. At the beginning of the XVIII Dynasty some of the anthropoid coffins changed the feather by an image of Nut, as we can see in the coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu. In it an extended image of Nut appears covering the upper part of the lid.

We know that in Ancient Egypt cosmogony Nut was the mother of Osiris and that in the mourning ritual the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards was a way of evoking this goddess and giving the deceased back to his birth. The mummy came back to his mother’s womb and was a new-born.

So between the end of the XVII and the beginning of the XVIII dynasties, the anthropoid coffins in Thebes had three dimensions:

  1. The coffin base was the earthly dimension, where the common mourners on earth shook their hair, remembering what happened on Earth for the deceased’s resurrection.
  2. The threshold of the divine dimension was at the feet of the lid, where the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys did their mourning rites for bringing the dead back to life.
  3. The upper part of the lid was the pure divine sphere, where the goddesses Isis and Nut had their place as wife and mother of Osiris and performed according to the myth.

DIMENSION IN A RISHI COFFIN. ANCIENT EGYPT

 

To be continued…


[1] In fact this is why these coffins are known as rishi coffins, from the Arabic word for “feather”.

A double Coffin from Roman Egypt. Double Nut…double Funeral?


Ancient Egyptian culture and traditions were adopted also by foreign people who ruled the country in many different periods of Egyptian history. Funerary customs were not an exception.

In the National Museum of Scotland there is a very interesting double coffin which belongs to two children: Petamun and PenhorpabikBoth mummies were supposed to be buried together inside this sarcophagus dated from the Late Roman Period (175-200 A.D.).

Double coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik. In the image a double image of Nut inside the lid. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Double coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik. In the image a double image of Nut inside the lid. National Museum of Scotland. Late Roman Period. 

Following the Egyptian belief, inside the cover of the coffin, the image of Nut in a very Roman style, dominates all along the surface. The artist who decorated the inside selected the image of the goddess who, as the mythical mother, granted the resurrection of the deceased, considered in ancient Egypt a new born.

The image of Nut in the inner part of the lid would show that the funerary though in ancient Egypt had not change even under the Roman rulers. Anyway, the fact is that Nut does not appear as we could imagine, that is, with raised arms and disheveled hair. We already know that this was the gesture of this goddess for assuring the dead’s resurrectionNut with a short hair here would be indicating that things were already changing in the Egyptian belief.

Detail of the double Nut in the coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik. Funerary ceremony and funerary belief in Ancient Egypt.

Detail of the double Nut in the coffin of Petamun and Penhorpabik.

Another point to consider is that, due that the coffin was for two bodies, they needed two images of Nut for their resurrection. So, what comes to our mind is that the image of Nut is double, because the resurrection was also double.

Taking that into consideration, we could also think, that during the funerary ceremony, the mourning rite for reviving the corpse could also be double in the burial of these two children?

If this image of Nut is still a legacy of the ancient Egypt belief from pharaonic times, some questions come to our mind:

Did the Egyptians a funerary ceremony per person?

Did the Egyptians an Opening of the Mouth Ceremony per person?

If the burial was double, then, did they double also the funerary ceremony and each funerary rite?

So, did the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys (the two Drty) make the mourning rite twice?

Let’s think about it…

Aside

Shaving the Mourners in Ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom. We have already seen that there are proves of a practice in Ancient Egyptian funerals of cutting and then offering the hair of the two Drty (”kites”), who made a … Continue reading

Open Reflections on Pulling Hair in Ancient Egypt .


The nwn m gesture of pulling the front lock of hair.

As we can see in the graphic here below the nwn m gesture of pulling hair is very present in the Old Kingdom, while we have no documents of it from the Middle Kingdom. It appears again later and especially strong in iconography. Documents from the Late Period on are less.

gráfico nwn m

Which ideas can we take from?

Nephtys pulling her front lock of hair. Detail from the sarcophagus of Nesshutefnut from the Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.  www.khm.at

Nephtys pulling her front lock of hair. Detail from the sarcophagus of Nesshutefnut from the Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. http://www.khm.at

  • If we have to take notice just of the data, we could understand that the nwn m gesture disappears during the Middle Kingdom for appearing again in the New Kingdom, but does it make sense? We think the answer is no. In this case we guess we have to hold chance responsible again for it.
  • Maybe the point is that such a sacred practice had not an orthodox way of being expressed, or in religious texts, or in iconography. Once in the New Kingdom the decorative activity gets so intense and sacred texts increase little by little religious and artistic collectives establish some rules or some principles. From that moment on we can distinguish between the common mourners and the professional ones, both making similar gestures, but with different meanings and in different moments of the funerary ceremony.