Relief sculpture of harvest scene with donkeys - ROM2004_1039_11

ROM2004_1039_11

Relief sculpture of harvest scene with donkeys

Medium:Limestone, carved and painted
Geography: Excavated at the Tomb of Metjetji, Saqqara, Egypt
Date: c. 2494-2321 BC
Period: 5th-early 6th Dynasty, Old Kingdom
Dimensions:
41.8 x 48 cm
Object number: 953.116.2
Credit Line: This purchase was made possible with the support of the Reuben Wells Leonard Bequest Fund
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt
Description

In this relief fragment from the tomb of Metjetji,  five donkeys advance in a line, sacks tied on their backs. Four move obediently ahead, while the fifth bends its head down to munch greedily on an ear of grain. This lively detail illustrates the mastery Egyptian sculptors achieved in the realm of animal art.  Even while respecting such conventions of Egyptian design as the legs shown in a staggered sequence and the single line of the donkeys' backs, the artist was able to capture convincingly the quivering of the long ears and the facial expression of each of the beasts.

Though the relief was highlighted with red, yellow, and green paint, the execution is rudimentary: for example, the background is treated unevenly and there is little interior modeling of the figures. The emphasis is placed on the incised outlines of the figures. The fragment was part of a harvest scene, a theme often depicted in chapels. Arranged along several registers, such agricultural scenes showed the work cycle, from sowing to reaping. The wheat was destined for the table of the deceased, who was generously supplied with various breads and cakes. In the upper part of this block, the feet of the peasants can be seen as they eternally bring in the sheaves of an endless, bountiful harvest. One sheaf is carefully depicted to the left of the donkeys. It has the barbs characteristic of the fat wheat (Triticum turgidum) grown in ancient Egypt.

The hieroglyphic caption reads, "balance of sheaves: 1,300." Once they were placed in sacks, the sheaves were transported on the backs of donkeys. The inscription "herd of donkeys" above the animals defines their nature, supplementing the properties of the image with the precision of language.

Collection:
Egypt
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