A noblewoman’s eternal home
In a private collection for over 60 years, this seventh-century BC Egyptian sarcophagus boasts rich decoration and the name of a woman with intriguing origins.
Thebes, late 25th or early 26th dynasty (ca. 660-630 BC), anthropoid Egyptian sarcophagus, sycamore wrapped in stuccoed and painted linen cloth, 174 x 46 cm.
The region is in tune with the “Tutmania” sweeping Paris with the sale of this sarcophagus dated ca. 660-630 BC, between the late 25th dynasty, dominated by the Nubians, and the early 26th dynasty, marked by the Saite renaissance. Bought at an auction in Châteauroux (France) around 1955, this inner coffin lid has since been in the same family in the Niort region. Although it has suffered the ravages of time – but no clumsy restoration – the decoration of this ultimate envelope, which protected the mummified body as closely as possible, remains readable. The iconography had been perfectly mastered since the New Kingdom and the adoption of anthropomorphic sarcophagi.
When heaven weds the earth
A wig with two wide blue braids on which a Horus falcon or a vulture spreads its protective wings frames the red-painted face. Nephthys, featured at the top of the head in an oval surrounded by two concentric bands, plays her role as funeral goddess. Omnipresent in this type of painting, Nut spreads her wings under the wide necklace to protect the door leading to the afterlife. Facing the mummy as if in hand-to-hand combat, she is also found along the entire length of the lid’s inner side, wrapped in a tight robe and with beautiful blue hair. Her body represents the celestial vault, which the image of the Earth certainly echoes at the bottom of the sarcophagus. The goddess of the Sky is clearly essential in funeral rituals.
Like early 26th-dynasty sarcophagi, the rest of the decoration, arranged in rows, combines hieroglyphics from the Book of the Dead, a guide to the perils on the journey to the afterlife, with a host of divinities. The dead woman is shown praying before Osiris, Nut’s son. Her name is written: “the mistress of the house and noble lady Astemakhbit”, daughter of “Horemakhbit, priest of Amon” and of the “mistress of the house of Tabatjat the Younger”. The second horizontal band of inscriptions features the latter name, which is more unusual – perhaps of Nubian or Libyan origin. Random or not, it was borne by three members of the family of Montemhat, the famous governor of Thebes. Might this woman have had illustrious ancestors?