New Kingdom Limestone Funerary Stele

SKU X.0454
Status

SOLD

Circa

1450 BC – 1070 BC

Dimensions

38.20″ (97.0cm) high

Medium

Stone

Origin

Egypt

Gallery Location

UK


 

This limestone, round-topped funerary stela is divided into two principal figural zones of decoration. The scene within the lunette at the top is framed by a sun disc with one wing deployed to the right. The space to the left of the sun disc is occupied by the sacred eye, or wadjet. This symbol represents the eye of the god Osiris which was injured during his struggles with his evil brother Seth. This eye was often associated with the phases of the moon, each phase representing the stages in the eye’s healing. Accordingly, the full moon represented the eye completely healed. The combination of wadjet- eye and winged sun disc at the top of the lunette is symbolic of the metaphorical journey of the deceased. His mummy was interred into the earth in a tomb in a process which associated him with the deceased Osiris. Just as the eye of Osiris was restored to health, so, too, the deceased would be restored to life in the Hereafter. The wadjet-eye, therefore, is symbolic of this transformation. Its juxtaposition with the winged sun disc suggests that the deceased has successfully journeyed from the realm of Osiris into that of the solar deities with whom he is now identified as a result of his resurrection.

In order to reinforce the symbolism inherent in both of these two motifs, the principal figures in this lunette are Osiris, enthroned to the right, and the deceased to the right.

Osiris is majestically depicted on a cubical- shaped throne set upon a dias which represents the Place of Truth. He is mummiform with his hands protruding from his bandages, and holds a flail and long crook as his attributes. He is wearing a broad collar and false beard and has an atef-crown on his head, consisting of the White Crown of Upper Egypt with an ostrich feather of truth attached to either side. Behind the figure of Osiris is a floral element intended to represent the primeval abyss from which creation arose. Its presence associates Osiris with the floral kingdom and underscores his role in the resurrection praxis of the ancient Egyptians. The figure of Osiris is captioned with two columns on hieroglyphs which identify him as, “Osiris, the Great God, the Lord of Eternity, the Ruler of Everlastingness.” The two columns of hieroglyphs behind him on either side of the floral element indicate that “all protection, all life, all health, all joy,” and so forth are under his auspices.

To the right is the deceased. He is clothed only in an elaborate, festively pleated, long linen skirt with a single broad collar as his sole accessory. He is bare-footed and bare-chested, and is depicted with a shaved head which gives prominence to his egg-shaped skull. Such a depiction is indebted to the artistic traditions of the Amarna Period, and demonstrates that, although the religious revolution of Akhenaten, the renegade pharaoh, was short-lived, the artistic style which he introduced was somewhat more enduring, and survived his demise. The deceased is offering “incense and cool water” to Osiris as he holds a ewer and censor in each hand.

There is a super-abundance of offerings piled up between the image of the deceased and that of Osiris. Some of these offerings have been heaped up in a pile on an offering table whereas the surplus has been placed around the table’s central support on the ground. Seven columns of hieroglyphs frame the figure of the deceased.

In the register below are two groups of individuals, each captioned by seven columns of hieroglyphs. The group to the left consists of men and women accompanied by children at their feet depicted in somewhat smaller scale. Each of the adults is clothed in elaborate garments and wigs, the tops of which contain a cone symbolizing their auras as individuals resurrected in the Hereafter. This group is seated on an elevated dais. An table, recalling that in the upper register, and likewise provisioned with offering separates this family group from the two figures to the left.

The male figure, standing closest to the table, performs the same ritual offering of incense and cool water which the deceased in the lunette also performs. He is similarly clothed. Behind him stands a female figure accompanied by a child.

The bottom of the stela is framed by a single line of hieroglyphs which contains a funerary spell, “A gift which pharaoh grants to Osiris so that Osiris might grant an invocation offering of the sweet northern breeze to the soul” of the deceased.

Our stela is a remarkable art historical document on two counts. Its style is evocative of the style of the Amarna Period. That period was a short interval in Egypt’s long history, characterized by a pharaoh who promoted the worship of one god, the Aton, over all other deities in the Egyptian pantheon. He introduced a new style in art which placed emphasis of the shape of the skull, most of which were designed in the egg- shape configuration shown on our relief. This characteristic cranial shape is suggested to have been symbolic, and imbues those with heads so depicted with solar and regenerative characteristics.

Equally important is the depiction on the lower register. The ancient Egyptians were very fond of their families and children, as the literary record reveals. Yet, very rarely were families with their children commemorated in art in the company of their parents. That all changed as well during the Amarna Period when the pharaoh Akhenaten and his beautiful wife, Nefertiti, were habitually represented in intimate scenes of daily life enjoying quality time with their daughters. Such depictions were perpetuated into the early Ramesside Period, to which epoch our stela belongs. As such, our stela can be compared to some of the outstanding depictions of families with children, as seen, for example, in the famous lower register in the tomb of Ankhhorhawy at Deir el-Medineh where the artists who created the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Queens lived.

References:

Sigrid Hodel-Hoenes, Life and Death in Ancient Egypt. Scenes from Private Tombs in New Kingdom Thebes [translated by David Warburton] (Ithaca 1991), page 274, figure 203, for the depiction of children in the company of adults in the tomb of Inher-kha.

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