Sketch on limestone - ROM2018_16310_6


Sketch on limestone

Geography: Excavated at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt
Date: c. 1295-1186 BC
Period: 19th Dynasty, Ramesside Period, New Kingdom
11 × 15.6 × 2 cm
Object number: 907.18.4
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

'Ostraca' is the word that archaeologists use for the flakes of limestone that Ancient Egyptians used as notepads.  A clean, fresh break in the limestone from the hills of Western Thebes often exhibits a flat surface ideal for writing out lists, making notes, and for sketching.  Some sketches on ostraca are so skillful that they may be preliminary drawings for more formal paintings, or in themselves be votive offerings to the gods, or gifts to living people or to the dead.

This ostracon is typical in being just the right size to fit in an artist's left hand while he painted with his right. The freehand drawing was skillfully done by a professional.  A man is leading a bull or bull-calf by a rope. The rope extends from the man's hand, but how it was attached to the animal is no longer clear. The animal is a lively creature with fine, cheerful markings in black and red.  What did the ostracon mean in its original context?  Is it a record of a bull being led to the slaughter for a religious feast?  Was the drawing a substitute for the offering of a live animal? Or could it be something like an advertisement, offering such an animal for sale?  Or did an artist draw it to please himself or amuse his children? 

Object History: Excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society, 1905-1907
If you see an error or have additional information, please contact us by clicking here.