Egypt, Romano-Egyptian period, ca. 1st century CE. A stunning gathering of mold-formed cartonnage panels used for adorning a mummified body. The white-painted face bears almond eyes with elongated canthi, a slender nose above red lips, blue swaths across the cheeks, a slender necklace with a jarlet amulet, and a motif of triangles, frets, and lotus blooms on the throat, all beneath a sun disk flanked with bull horns. The chest piece has an elaborate wesekh-collar surmounted with two heads of Ra-Horakhty, four mourners, and a djed pillar, with a sun disk flanked with winged uraei above the Sons of Horus and an addition djed pillar, and dozens of polychrome rungs enclosing a black hieroglyph inscription. The red, sandaled feet bear several ankle bands, a lower floral periphery, and textured soles underneath. This ensemble was perhaps intended for a child from a wealthy family. Custom wooden display box included. Size of largest (chest): 8.25" W x 18.625" H (21 cm x 47.3 cm); size (wooden case): 8.75" L x 12.6" W x 42.625" H (22.2 cm x 32 cm x 108.3 cm).
Ancient Egyptians believed it was of the utmost importance to preserve the body of the deceased, because the soul needed a place to reside after the death of the physical corpus. Preservation of the body was done via mummification - a process involving the removal of internal organs that were placed in canopic jars, wrapping the body in linen, and then embalming. Artisans were able to employ the use of different materials when crafting sarcophagi or any elements to be placed atop the body of the deceased. Earlier mummy accoutrements were carved from wood, while later examples were made of cartonnage, a material formed from papyrus or linen that is soaked in plaster which is then applied to a wooden mold.
Featured on the chest and leg panels are some of the most recognizable and symbolically significant figures in ancient Egyptian mythos: The Sons of Horus. The four Sons of Horus are the baboon-headed Hapi - representative of the north and guardian of the lungs who is protected by the goddess Nephthys; the human-headed Imsety - representative of the south and guardian of the liver who is protected by the goddess Isis; the jackal-headed Duamutef - representative of the east and guardian of the stomach who is protected by the goddess Neith; and the falcon-headed Qebehsenuef - representative of the west and guardian of the intestines protected by the goddess Serqet. Horus's sons were the ones charged with protecting the various internal organs, as they had originally been charged with protecting the body of Osiris; as a result, their heads often form the lids of canopic jars.
Altogether, this cartonnage ensemble would have protected a mummy's body, likely that of a child; the highly trained artists who created it as well, as the bereaved family members who commissioned it, believed in the power of the symbols and words they painted to aid the deceased in their journey to and tasks while in the afterlife.
For an example from the Ptolemaic period of how these components would be placed on a linen-wrapped mummy body, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 86.1.51.
Provenance: private J.H. collection, Beaverton, Oregon, USA; ex-Relics of the Nile, Lexington, Kentucky; ex-private S.O. Simonian collection, Switzerland, acquired in Egypt and transported to Switzerland in 1972, where they have been held in storage since 2010
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Repair to fissure on top of head stretching to forehead; chipping and fading to original pigment, and a couple of stable fissures. Nicks to chest piece, with fraying to some peripheral linen threads, and one fissure on top edge. Fissure to bottom of feet, with possible repairs to sides and area of heel. Minor fading to original pigmentation, with slight deformation to individual pieces, and desiccation commensurate with age. Fissures and loss to one upper corner of acrylic frame for chest piece.