Coffin of Chantress of Amun, Nefer-mut - ROM2014_14343_1


Coffin of Chantress of Amun, Nefer-mut

Medium:Wood and plaster
Geography: Excavated at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt
Date: c. 1069-945 BC
Period: Late 21st-Early 22nd Dynasty, 3rd Intermediate Period
50.5 x 162 x 48 cm
Object number: 910.5.2.1
Not on view

<p>This coffin probably belonged to female mummy 910.5.2.3, known as Nefer-mut. The coffin was originally quite attractively decorated in the style of the early Twentieth-second Dynasty known as Niwinski Type V. The name of the deceased woman, Nefer-mut, was found at the left shoulder of the coffin-case, near the image of a male figure kneeling with his hands raised in adoration.  (Both male and female characteristics were required for a successful transition to the afterlife.)</p>

<p>This extremely fragile coffin has been exhibited on only a few occasions. Water, insect damage and rough handling have caused losses to the wood, gesso and paint.  At present the dowels holding the lid to the coffin-case are quite jammed, so that the upper and lower portions of the coffin cannot be separated. At some time in the past a long piece of wood was torn from the upper right side of the lid, the foot of the coffin was removed, and the mummy was rather roughly pulled out through the ensuing opening. Fragments of linen and possibly human tissue adhere to the bottom of the coffin, and there is damage to the wrappings and the mummy herself. It is not at present possible to determine whether there is decoration on the inside of the lid, though there are fine paintings on the interior sides of the coffin case (see below for description).</p>

<p>There is no evidence that ointments or resins were applied to the surface of the coffin during the funeral. This omission together with the simplicity of Nefer-mut's mummification, and the sketchy quality of the artwork and hieroglyphs on the outside of the coffin-case, attest that Nefer-mut was not a member of the Theban elite. Her titles, "Lady of the House" and "Chantress of Amun" show that she was a member of the large class of people who had the right to take part in religious processions and to enter into parts of the temple inaccessible to purely secular persons.</p>

<p>The lid was carefully and formally decorated, while the decoration of the outer sides of the coffin-case seems to have been drawn free-hand. The face was carved as a mask and fitted to the underlying boards by dowels.  Most of the gesso and paint are now missing from the face, leaving a ghostly image. The nose has been almost torn off. The skin was painted yellow and there was no Osiris beard.  The female-style wig, with bands of decoration, was separately carved and doweled onto the lid.  The left breast and separately made hands are missing.  </p>

<p>The very large floral collar extends to the belly. Painted, crossed red stripes represent the leather stola sometimes found on upper class mummies of this period, embossed with the name of the ruling high priest. The various elements of the collar, painted in red-orange, blue, green, white and black, represent sweet-smelling and medicinal leaves and petals, some folded into squares. Blue water lilies, persea fruits, and daisy-like mayweed flowers make up the bottommost row of plant material. The festive nature of such collars celebrates the deceased’s successful entry into the realm of Osiris. The depiction of fragrant leaves and blossoms magically prevents any aroma of decay from contaminating the mummy. </p>

<p>Below the collar, some areas such as the sun-disks and Nut’s dress, have been enhanced by built-up layers of gesso that have been thickly painted to imitate inlay of carnelian. The blue clothing of a deity identified as the Great God, Lord of the Sky and the bodies of scarab beetles were likewise emphasized with gesso and painted a vivid blue to suggest lapis lazuli. Otherwise, the drawings were simply but skillfully executed, with the feathers of vultures and goddesses drawn as sharp and straight as if a ruler had been employed.</p>

<p>Between two winged serpents crowned with sundisks, a figure of the goddess Nut spreads her arms and wings across the area of the upper thighs. Three lines of inscription, the central one on a white background, once extended downward from the figure of Nut to the foot of the coffin. Damage to the foot destroyed the bottom part of each line. The poorly preserved text was a version of the traditional offering formula. The centre line begins: Words spoken by Re-Horakhty-Atum, Lord of Southern Iunu, the Great God, Lord of the Sky, who comes forth on the Horizon, may he bequeath . . . On the left, Anubis, Lord of the Sacred Land, who is upon his Divine Booth, Ruler of the Place of Truth, may he give (offerings of) . . . incense, clothing, alabaster (jars of ointment), everything pure . . . . The line to the right, badly damaged at top and bottom, invokes Osiris, foremost of the Westerners, Great God, Lord of the Sky, Lord of Abydos, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ruler of Eternity, Wennefer . . . . The name and titles of the deceased may once have been written at the bottom of these lines.  At about the level where the text is broken, two upright sphinxes with sun-disks and uraei flank the text.  Along the seams joining the lid with the coffin base are lines of text asking a variety of gods and goddesses, including Wennefer, Ruler of Eternity, Isis the Great, Mut, the Great Goddess, Lady of the Sky, Mistress of the Gods for the usual offerings of food.</p>

<p>Unlike the lid, which was meant to be seen as it stood at the entrance to a tomb, and so has decoration that appears vertical while the coffin was upright, the coffin-case is horizontally decorated along the sides so that the images would be best appreciated if the coffin were lying down on a bier. The images on the sides seem to have been drawn free-hand. A frieze of cobras and ostrich feathers crowned with sun disks runs around the two sides; the elements, however, were not carefully aligned, and some of the cobras are mere loops of ink. The inscriptions were rapidly written, each line giving assurance that the deceased was ‘revered before’ Osiris, Isis, Hathor, and other deities.</p>

<p>There are five vignettes on each side.  The deceased is depicted both as male and female in order to maintain her female identity from life, while adopting the male energy and reproductive powers needed for entry to the afterlife.  One through that dangerous passage, she will be completely female again.</p>

<p>Scene 1: Near the head on left and right is an image of a male in Ramesside attire standing before an offering table.</p>

<p>Scene 2:  On the right, a square-muzzled mummiform canid offers a jar of ointment to a deity who has most of Osiris’ attributes, but wears a wig crowned with a sun-disk.  The Osirid figure has a very appealing childish face. On the left, a woman wearing a tight blue archaic sheath dress offers ointment to a seated deity whose head has been lost.</p>

<p>Scene 3: On the right, a woman in a dark sheath dress offers to a dark-skinned seated, mummiform god with a sun-disk on his head. On the left, a male figure in Ramesside fancy-dress offers a vase (which may represent his heart) to a seated baboon deity.</p>

<p>Scene 4: On the right two baboons stand in adoration of the barque of Re which is itself crowned with a triple atef crown, while two ba birds stand below the baboons, each facing away from the barque and toward a feather of Maat.  On the left, two bad birds, perched on Western signs, raise their skinny arms in adoration of an Osiris Fetish which has a visible head, crowned with the triple atef.  The artist seemed to have been fond of ba birds, which represent the active and mobile aspect of the soul, and drew them as charming, lively creatures whose human heads are always bearded.</p>

<p>Scene 5: The Hathor Cow representing the shrines at Deir el Bahri, near the coffin’s findspot in Akh Swt, dominates the final scene near the foot on each side.  On the right, a male figure in Ramesside dress raises his arms in adoration and is identified as ‘Nefer-mut’ with a female determinative to his name.  On the left, the Hathor cow emerges from the Theban Hills.  Behind her is a small pyramid-topped tomb at the back of which a bearded ba raises his hands in praise of the rising sun.  Facing the cow is a standing female mummy, identified as “the Osiris, the Chantress of Amun . . .”   Unfortunately, there is a large area of lost stucco and paint just where the name of the deceased would be. Nefer-mut would have been named originally on each side of the coffin case, once as a female mummy, and once as an active male figure.</p>


<p>Although the lid of the coffin cannot be lifted, it is possible to visually access the interior of the case through the missing foot.  Apart from the fragments of linen, it is possible to recognize some elements of the original design.</p>

<p>The best art and most powerful images were drawn on the inside of the coffin, where their powerful magic could protect Nefer-mut. At the head of the coffin a pleasantly plump, unbearded ba bird spreads her wings around the deceased’s head.  Both interior walls, so far as can be seen, were decorated with images of mummiform genies. The white-wrapped genies with their bright red ‘mummy braces’ were much more skillfully and formally executed than the images on the exterior trough, and employ a full palette of colours.  They have human and animal heads, including snakes, vultures and cats.  The customary offering formula, the ‘hotep di nesu’ is beautifully executed with full-colour hieroglyphs. It is not possible at present to discern whether the bottom of the coffin interior was painted.</p>

<p>The coffin of Nefer-mut, though badly damaged in the three thousand years since it was carefully buried at Deir el Bahari, still bears witness to the skill of the ancient artisans.  It speaks also of the care and love of the family and friends who acquired it to guard Nefer-mut, a young mother, on her journey to the Afterlife.  Once safely in the Beautiful West, they believed that Nefer-mut would become a powerful spirit who could help and protect those she had left behind.</p>

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