Egypt, Late Dynastic Period, 26th to 31st Dynasty, ca. 664 to 332 BCE. A beautiful sarcophagus panel fragment, of a rectangular form carved from finely-grained cedar wood, with a painted yellow-brown ground. Depicted are three large seated deity figures holding sacred implements of protection used in funerary contexts, one in white holding an ankh; the middle figure in black holding a ceremonial flail (nekhakha); the third seated figure holding an ankh and presents an abstract dog-form head, perhaps a depiction of one of the Sons of Horus, Duamutef. The figures are separated by red-and-blue ladder-form columns as well as two tall palm fronds, both important symbols representing life after death. A small slit-form mortise on the top periphery indicates how the coffin lid was secured to the rest of the body. Size: 31" L x 9" W (78.7 cm x 22.9 cm).
Anthropoid coffins first appeared by the Middle Kingdom - skillfully carved so as to outline the mummy's body and decorated with the visage and wig of the deceased individual. Such coffins not only served to copy the mummy's form kept within, but also served as actual substitutes for the bodies in the event that the mummy's body was lost or destroyed. As time progressed, the panels and carved details which embellished these coffins were decorated with more extensive iconographic programs, presenting a greater number of inscriptions and scenes of deities, protective spells, and important symbology as we see in this example.
Coffins made for higher-status and intellectual individuals were traditionally carved from cedar. Interestingly, cedar wood was not native to Egypt. Egypt did not have verdant forests filled with tall trees, and unfortunately most of its native lumber was of relatively poor quality. So they relied on importing to acquire hardwoods - ebony imported from Africa, cedar and pine from Lebanon. One fabulous obelisk inscription by Thutmose III attests to the luxury of treasured hardwoods. It reads as follows, "They brought to me the choicest products . . . consisting of cedar, juniper and of meru wood . . . all the good sweet woods of God's Land." (Obelisk inscription by Thutmose III - J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, p. 321)
Provenance: private Vero Beach, Florida, USA collection; ex-private old New Jersey, USA collection, acquired in the 1960s
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This panel is a fragment from a larger wooden coffin. Minor nicks and abrasions to painted details, peripheries, and verso, light encrustations, with fading to original pigmentation, and several areas of light overpainting, otherwise intact and excellent. Nice earthen deposits and great traces of original pigmentation throughout. Remains of old mounting foam on verso.