Coffin lid of Chantress of Amun, Nefer-mut - ROM2014_14343_1


Coffin lid of Chantress of Amun, Nefer-mut

Medium:Wood, gesso and paint
Geography: Excavated at the temple of Nebhepetre Montuhotep, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt
Date: c. 1069-945 BC
Period: Late 21st-Early 22nd Dynasty, 3rd Intermediate Period
161 x 48 x 50.5 cm
Object number: 910.5.2.2
Not on view

This coffin probably belonged to female mummy 910.5.2.3, Nefer-mut.

The coffin is extremely fragile, and has only rarely been on exhibit.  An attempt at some time in the past to open the coffin and extract the mummy resulted in severe damage to the lid.  A large section of wood on the upper right side was wrenched out without releasing the lid from the bottom. Rather than completely destroy the coffin lid, the foot of the coffin was removed and the mummy rather roughly pulled out through the ensuing opening. Resin and fragments of linen adhere to the bottom of the coffin; the wrappings, and even the mummy herself were torn in several places. The lid has also sustained damage from insects and water. It is not at present possible to determine whether there is decoration on the inside of the lid, though the bottom has some very fine painting.

There is no evidence that the 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 bottom, 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 part 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.

Loss of paint and gesso has left only a ghostly image on the face of the coffin. The wood reveals the method of construction: several layers of wood were dowelled together and then the features were carved, further molded with gesso, and painted. The face appears to have been painted the traditional womanly yellow, though it is possible there was once a thin layer of gold leaf.  The face is bordered by an elaborately braided and decorated wig.

The coffin was originally quite attractively decorated in the style of the early Twentieth Dynasty known as Niwinski Type V.  The lid was skillfully decorated. The large floral collar, in particular, was the work of an expert. It was carefully painted with blue, red, green, white and black. Blue water lilies hang from the bottom edge, slightly overlapping decoration below. The red stripes crossed over the collar represent the leather stola sometimes found on upper class mummies of this period, embossed with the name of the ruling high priest. The other colourful elements represent various sweet-smelling and medicinal leaves and petals, some folded into squares. The festive nature of such collars celebrates the deceased’s successful entry into the realm of Osiris, and its depiction of fragrant leaves and blossoms magically prevents any aroma of decay from contaminating the mummy.

On the coffin’s lid, though not on the bottom, raised gesso was used to imitate inlay.  Sun disks, for example, are raised and painted red, to suggest a carnelian or jasper inlay.  The blue clothing of the Osiris, and the bodies of scarab beetles, were emphasized with gesso and painted a vivid blue to suggest lapis lazuli. A figure of the goddess Nut spreads her arms and wings across the area of the upper thighs.

Three lines of inscription extended downward from the figure of Nut to the foot of the coffin. The poorly preserved text was a version of the traditional offering formula. The centre line begins with “Words spoken by Re-Horakhty]-Atum Lord of Southern Iunu, the Great God, Lord of the Sky, who comes forth on the Horizon . . .,” and continues to assure that the god will provide offerings of provisions, bread and beer, clothes and ointments, incense, and everything good and pure for the justified spirit. These glyphs were carefully and formally composed, in contrast to the informal style of the inscriptions on the coffin bottom. The name of the deceased might have been written in the area of missing gesso and paint at the end of this line, or on the foot. On the left, Words spoken by Anubis and on the right, Words spoken by Osiris invoke those gods to provide offerings. Similar lines of text follow the seams of the coffin on either side, from hip to foot, with Re-Horakhty-Atum and Isis on the left, and Osiris in his various names on the right. Re-Horakhty-Atum, while not originally a funerary god, became a common figure on coffins in the late New Kingdom in his role as guarantor of the freedom to go forth by day as a glorified spirit who would travel across the sky with the sun.


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