Gaston Camille Charles Maspero.

Manual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt online

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Egypt of to-day. In the time of the Twelfth Dynasty an ordinary house
contained no bedsteads, but low frameworks like the Nubian _angareb_; or
mats rolled up by day on which the owners lay down at night in their
clothes, pillowing their heads on earthenware, stone, or wooden head-rests.
There were also two or three simple stone seats, some wooden chairs or
stools with carved legs, chests and boxes of various sizes for clothes and
tools, and a few common vessels of pottery or bronze. For making fire there
were fire-sticks, and the bow-drill for using them (figs. 255 and 181);
children's toys were even then found in great variety though of somewhat
quaint construction. There were dolls with wigs and movable limbs, made in
stone, pottery, and wood (fig. 256); figures of men, and animals, and
terra-cotta boats, balls of wood and stuffed leather, whip-tops, and tip-
cats (fig. 257).

[Illustration: Fig. 255. - Fire-sticks, bow, and unfinished drill-stock,
Twelfth Dynasty; _Illahûn, Kahun, and Gurob,_ W.M.F. Petrie, Plate VII., p.

[Illustration: Fig. 256. - Remains of two Twelfth Dynasty dolls; _Kahun,
Gurob and Hawara,_ W.M.F. Petrie, Plate VIII. p. 30.]

[Illustration: Fig. 257. - Tops, tip-cat, and a terra-cotta toy boat,
Twelfth Dynasty; _Kahun, Gurob, and Hawara,_ W.M.F. Petrie, Plates VIII.,
IX., p. 30.]

[Illustration: Fig. 258. - Chest]

[Illustration: Fig. 259. - Chest.]

[Illustration: Fig. 260. - Chest.]

The art of the cabinet-maker was nevertheless carried to a high degree of
perfection, from the time of the ancient dynasties. Planks were dressed
down with the adze, mortised, glued, joined together by means of pegs cut
in hard wood, or acacia thorns (never by metal nails), polished, and
finally covered with paintings. Chests generally stand upon four straight
legs, and are occasionally thus raised to some height from the ground. The
lid is flat, or rounded according to a special curvature (fig. 258) much in
favour among the Egyptians of all periods. Sometimes, though rarely, it is
gable-shaped, like our house-roofs (fig. 259). Generally speaking, the lid
lifts off bodily; but it often turns upon a peg inserted in one of the
uprights. Sometimes, also, it turns upon wooden pivots (fig. 260). The
panels, which are large and admirably suited for decorative art, are
enriched with paintings, or inlaid with ivory, silver, precious woods, or
enamelled plaques. It may be that we are scarcely in a position justly to
appraise the skill of Egyptian cabinet-makers, or the variety of designs
produced at various periods. Nearly all the furniture which has come down
to our day has been found in tombs, and, being destined for burial in the
sepulchre, may either be of a character exclusively destined for the use of
the mummy, or possibly a cheap imitation of a more precious class of

The mummy was, in fact, the cabinet-maker's best customer. In other lands,
man took but a few objects with him into the next world; but the defunct
Egyptian required nothing short of a complete outfit. The mummy-case alone
was an actual monument, in the construction of which a whole squad of
workmen was employed (fig. 261). The styles of mummy-cases varied from
period to period. Under the Memphite and first Theban empires, we find only
rectangular chests in sycamore wood, flat at top and bottom, and made of
many pieces joined together by wooden pins. The pattern is not elegant, but
the decoration is very curious. The lid has no cornice. Outside, it is
inscribed down the middle with a long column of hieroglyphs, sometimes
merely written in ink, sometimes laid on in colour, sometimes carved in
hollowed-out signs filled in with some kind of bluish paste. The
inscription records only the name and titles of the deceased, accompanied
now and then by a short form of prayer in his favour. The inside is covered
with a thick coat of stucco or whitewash.

[Illustration: Fig. 261. - Construction of a mummy-case, wall scene,
Eighteenth Dynasty.]

[Illustration: Fig. 262. - Mask of Twenty-first Dynasty coffin of Rameses

[Illustration: Fig. 263. - Mummy-case of Queen Ahmesnefertari.]

Upon this surface, the seventeenth chapter of _The Book of the Dead _was
generally written in red and black inks, and in fine cursive hieroglyphs.
The body of the chest is made with three horizontal planks for the bottom,
and eight vertical planks, placed two and two, for the four sides. The
outside is sometimes decorated with long strips of various colours ending
in interlaced lotus-leaves, such as are seen on stone sarcophagi. More
frequently, it is ornamented on the left side with two wide-open eyes and
two monumental doors, and on the right with three doors exactly like those
seen in contemporary catacombs. The sarcophagus is in truth the house of
the deceased; and, being his house, its four walls were bound to contain an
epitome of the prayers and _tableaux_ which covered the walls of his tomb.
The necessary formulae and pictured scenes were, therefore, reproduced
inside, nearly in the same order in which they appear in the mastabas. Each
side is divided in three registers, each register containing a dedication
in the name of the deceased, or representations of objects belonging to
him, or such texts from the Ritual as need to be repeated for his benefit.
Skilfully composed, and painted upon a background made to imitate some
precious wood, the whole forms a boldly-designed and harmoniously-coloured
picture. The cabinet-maker's share of the work was the lightest, and the
long boxes in which the dead of the earliest period were buried made no
great demand upon his skill. This, however, was not the case when in later
times the sarcophagus came to be fashioned in the likeness of the human
body. Of this style we have two leading types. In the most ancient, the
mummy serves as the model for his case. His outstretched feet and legs are
in one. The form of the knee, the swell of the calf, the contours of the
thigh and the trunk, are summarily indicated, and are, as it were, vaguely
modelled under the wood. The head, apparently the only living part of this
inert body, is wrought out in the round. The dead man is in this wise
imprisoned in a kind of statue of himself; and this statue is so well
balanced that it can stand on its feet if required, as upon a pedestal. In
the other type of sarcophagus, the deceased lies at full length upon his
tomb, and his figure, sculptured in the round, serves as the lid of his
mummy-case. On his head is seen the ponderous wig of the period. A white
linen vest and a long petticoat cover his chest and legs. His feet are shod
with elegant sandals. His arms lie straight along his sides, or are folded
upon his breast, the hands grasping various emblems, as the _Ankh_, the
girdle-buckle, the _Tat_;[69] or, as in the case of the wife of Sennetmû at
Gizeh, a garland of ivy. This mummiform type of sarcophagus is rarely met
with under the Memphite dynasties, though that of Menkara, the Mycerinus of
the Greeks, affords a memorable example. Under the Eleventh Dynasty, the
mummy-case is frequently but a hollowed tree-trunk, roughly sculptured
outside, with a head at one end and feet at the other. The face is daubed
with bright colours, yellow, red, and green; the wig and headdress are
striped with black and blue, and an elaborate collar is depicted on the
breast. The rest of the case is either covered with the long, gilded wings
of Isis and Nephthys, or with a uniform tint of white or yellow, and
sparsely decorated with symbolic figures, or columns of hieroglyphs painted
blue and black. Among the sarcophagi belonging to kings of the Seventeenth
Dynasty which I recovered from Deir el Baharî, the most highly finished
belonged to this type, and were only remarkable for the really
extraordinary skill with which the craftsman had reproduced the features of
the deceased sovereigns. The mask of Ahmes I., that of Amenhotep I., and
that of Thothmes II., are masterpieces in their way. The mask of Rameses
II. shows no sign of paint, except a black line which accentuates the form
of the eye. The face is doubtless modelled in the likeness of the Pharaoh
Herhor, who restored the funerary outfit of his puissant ancestor, and it
will almost bear comparison with the best works of contemporary sculpture
(fig. 262). Two mummy-cases found in the same place - namely, those of Queen
Ahmesnefertari and her daughter, Aahhotep II. - are of gigantic size, and
measure more than ten and a half feet in height (fig. 263). Standing
upright, they might almost be taken for two of the caryatid statues from
the first court at Medinet Habû, though on a smaller scale. The bodies are
represented as bandaged, and but vaguely indicate the contours of the human
form. The shoulders and bust of each are covered with a kind of network in
relief, every mesh standing out in blue upon a yellow ground. The hands
emerge from this mantle, are crossed upon the breast, and grasp the _Ankh_,
or Tau-cross, symbolic of eternal life. The heads are portraits. The faces
are round, the eyes large, the expression mild and characterless. Each is
crowned with the flat-topped cap and lofty plumes of Amen or Maut. We
cannot but wonder for what reason these huge receptacles were made. The two
queens were small of stature, and their mummies - which were well-nigh lost
in the cases - had to be packed round with an immense quantity of rags, to
prevent them from shifting, and becoming injured. Apart from their abnormal
size, these cases are characterised by the same simplicity which
distinguishes other mummy-cases of royal or private persons of the same
period. Towards the middle of the Nineteenth Dynasty, the fashion changed.
The single mummy-case, soberly decorated, was superseded by two, three, and
even four cases, fitting the one into the other, and covered with paintings
and inscriptions. Sometimes the outer receptacle is a sarcophagus with
convex lid and square ears, upon which the deceased is pictured over and
over again upon a white ground, in adoration before the gods of the Osirian
cycle. When, however, it is shaped in human form, it retains somewhat of
the old simplicity. The face is painted; a collar is represented on the
chest, a band of hieroglyphs extends down the whole length of the body to
the feet, and the rest is in one uniform tone of black, brown, or dark
yellow. The inner cases were extravagantly rich, the hands and faces being
red, rose-coloured, or gilded; the jewellery painted, or sometimes imitated
by means of small morsels of enamel encrusted in the wood-work; the
surfaces frequently covered with many-coloured scenes and legends, and the
whole heightened by means of the yellow varnish already mentioned. The
lavish ornamentation of this period is in striking contrast with the
sobriety of earlier times; but in order to grasp the reason of this
change, one must go to Thebes, and visit the actual sepulchres of the dead.
The kings and private persons of the great conquering dynasties[70] devoted
their energies, and all the means at their disposal, to the excavation of
catacombs. The walls of those catacombs were covered with sculptures and
paintings. The sarcophagus was cut in one enormous block of granite or
alabaster, and admirably wrought. It was therefore of little moment if the
wooden coffin in which the mummy reposed were very simply decorated. But
the Egyptians of the decadence, and their rulers, had not the wealth of
Egypt and the spoils of neighbouring countries at command. They were poor;
and the slenderness of their resources debarred them from great
undertakings. They for the most part gave up the preparation of magnificent
tombs, and employed such wealth as remained to them in the fabrication of
fine mummy-cases carved in sycamore wood. The beauty of their coffins,
therefore, but affords an additional proof of their weakness and poverty.
When for a few centuries the Saïte princes had succeeded in re-establishing
the prosperity of the country, stone sarcophagi came once more into
requisition, and the wooden coffin reverted to somewhat of the simplicity
of the great period. But this Renaissance was not destined to last. The
Macedonian conquest brought back the same revolution in funerary fashions
which followed the fall of the Ramessides, and double and triple mummy
cases, over-painted and over-gilded, were again in demand. If the
craftsmen of Graeco-Roman time who attired the dead of Ekhmîm for their
last resting places were less skilful than those of earlier date, their bad
taste was, at all events, not surpassed by the Theban coffin-makers who
lived and worked under the latest princes of the royal line of Rameses.

[Illustration: Fig. 264. - Panel portrait from the Graeco-Roman Cemetery at
Hawara, now in the National Gallery, London. (_Hawara, Biahmu, and
Arsinoe_, W.M.F. Petrie, Plate X., page 10.)]

A series of Graeco-Roman examples from the Fayûm exhibit the stages by
which portraiture in the flat there replaced the modelled mask, until
towards the middle of the second century A.D. it became customary to
bandage over the face of the mummy a panel-portrait of the dead, as he was
in life (fig. 264).

The remainder of the funerary outfit supplied the cabinet-maker with as
much work as the coffin-maker. Boxes of various shapes and sizes were
required for the wardrobe of the mummy, for his viscera, and for his
funerary statuettes. He must also have tables for his meals; stools,
chairs, a bed to lie upon, a boat and sledge to convey him to the tomb, and
sometimes even a war-chariot and a carriage in which to take the air.[71]
The boxes for canopic vases, funerary statuettes, and libation-vases, are
divided in several compartments. A couchant jackal is sometimes placed on
the top, and serves for a handle by which to take off the lid. Each box was
provided with its own little sledge, upon which it was drawn in the funeral
procession on the day of burial. Beds are not very uncommon. Many are
identical in structure with the Nubian _angarebs_, and consist merely of
some coarse fabric, or of interlaced strips of leather, stretched on a
plain wooden frame. Few exceed fifty-six inches in length; the sleeper,
therefore, could never lie outstretched, but must perforce assume a
doubled-up position. The frame is generally horizontal, but sometimes it
slopes slightly downwards from the head to the foot. It was often raised to
a considerable height above the level of the floor, and a stool, or a
little portable set of steps, was used in mounting it. These details were
known to us by the wall-paintings only until I myself discovered two
perfect specimens in 1884 and 1885; one at Thebes, in a tomb of the
Thirteenth Dynasty, and the other at Ekhmîm, in the Graeco-Roman
necropolis. In the former, two accommodating lions have elongated their
bodies to form the framework, their heads doing duty for the head of the
bed, and their tails being curled up under the feet of the sleeper.

[Illustration: Fig. 265. - Carved and painted mummy canopy.]

[Illustration: Fig. 266. - Canopied mummy-couch, Graeco-Roman.]

[Illustration: Fig. 267. - Mummy-sledge and canopy.]

[Illustration: Fig. 268. - Inlaid-chair, Eleventh Dynasty.]

The bed is surmounted by a kind of canopy, under which the mummy lay in
state. Rhind had already found a similar canopy, which is now in the Museum
of Edinburgh[72] (fig. 265). In shape it is a temple, the rounded roof
being supported by elegant colonnettes of painted wood. A doorway guarded
by serpents is supposed to give access to the miniature edifice. Three
winged discs, each larger than the one below it, adorn three superimposed
cornices above the door, the whole frontage being surmounted by a row of
erect uraei, crowned with the solar disc. The canopy belonging to the
Thirteenth Dynasty bed is much more simple, being a mere balustrade in cut
and painted wood, in imitation of the water-plant pattern with which temple
walls were decorated; the whole is crowned with an ordinary cornice. In the
bed of Graeco-Roman date (fig. 266), carved and painted figures of the
goddess Ma, sitting with her feather on her knee, are substituted for the
customary balustrades. Isis and Nephthys stand with their winged arms
outstretched at the head and foot. The roof is open, save for a row of
vultures hovering above the mummy, which is wept over by two kneeling
statuettes of Isis and Nephthys, one at each end. The sledges upon which
mummies were dragged to the sepulchre were also furnished with canopies,
but in a totally different style. The sledge canopy is a panelled shrine,
like those which I discovered in 1886, in the tomb of Sennetmû at Kûrnet
Murraee. If light was admitted, it came through a square opening, showing
the head of the mummy within. Wilkinson gives an illustration of a sledge
canopy of this kind, from the wall paintings of a Theban tomb (fig. 267).
The panels were always made to slide. As soon as the mummy was laid upon
his sledge, the panels were closed, the corniced roof placed over all, and
the whole closed in. With regard to chairs, many of those in the Louvre and
the British Museum were made about the time of the Eleventh Dynasty. These
are not the least beautiful specimens which have come down to us, one in
particular (fig. 268) having preserved an extraordinary brilliancy of
colour. The framework, formerly fitted with a seat of strong netting, was
originally supported on four legs with lions' feet. The back is ornamented
with two lotus flowers, and with a row of lozenges inlaid in ivory and
ebony upon a red ground. Stools of similar workmanship (fig. 269), and
folding stools, the feet of which are in the form of a goose's head, may be
seen in all museums. Pharaohs and persons of high rank affected more
elaborate designs. Their seats were sometimes raised very high, the arms
being carved to resemble running lions, and the lower supports being
prisoners of war, bound back to back (fig. 270). A foot-board in front
served as a step to mount by, and as a foot-stool for the sitter. Up to the
present time, we have found no specimens of this kind of seat.[73]

[Illustration: Fig. 269. - Inlaid stool, Eleventh Dynasty.]

[Illustration: Fig. 270. - Royal throne-chair, wall-painting Rameses III.]

[Illustration: Fig. 271. - Women weaving. From wall-scene in tomb of
Khnûmhotep, Beni Hasan, Twelfth Dynasty.]

We learn from the tomb paintings that netted or cane-bottomed chairs were
covered with stuffed seats and richly worked cushions. These cushions and
stuffed seats have perished, but it is to be concluded that they were
covered with tapestry. Tapestry was undoubtedly known to the Egyptians, and
a bas-relief subject at Beni Hasan (fig. 271)[74] shows the process of
weaving. The frame, which is of the simplest structure, resembles that now
in use among the weavers of Ekhmîm. It is horizontal, and is formed of two
slender cylinders, or rather of two rods, about fifty-four inches apart,
each held in place by two large pegs driven into the ground about three
feet distant from each other. The warps of the chain were strongly
fastened, then rolled round the top cylinder till they were stretched
sufficiently tight. Mill sticks placed at certain distances facilitated the
insertion of the needles which carried the thread. As in the Gobelins
factory, the work was begun from the bottom. The texture was regulated and
equalised by means of a coarse comb, and was rolled upon the lower cylinder
as it increased in length. Hangings and carpets were woven in this manner;
some with figures, others with geometrical designs, zigzags, and chequers
(fig. 272). A careful examination of the monuments has, however, convinced
me that most of the subjects hitherto supposed to represent examples of
tapestry represent, in fact, examples of cut and painted leather. The
leather-worker's craft flourished in ancient Egypt. Few museums are without
a pair of leather sandals, or a specimen of mummy braces with ends of
stamped leather bearing the effigy of a god, a Pharaoh, a hieroglyphic
legend, a rosette, or perhaps all combined. These little relics are not
older than the time of the priest-kings, or the earlier Bubastites. It is
to the same period that we must attribute the great cut-leather canopy in
the Gizeh Museum. The catafalque upon which the mummy was laid when
transported from the mortuary establishment to the tomb, was frequently
adorned with a covering made of stuff or soft leather. Sometimes the
sidepieces hung down, and sometimes they were drawn aside with bands, like
curtains, and showed the coffin.

[Illustration: Fig. 272. - Man weaving hangings, or carpet. From Beni Hasan,
Twelfth Dynasty.]

[Illustration: Fig. 273. - Border pattern of cut leather canopy of
Isiemkheb, Twenty-first Dynasty.]

The canopy of Deir el Baharî was made for the Princess Isiemkheb, daughter
of the High Priest Masahirti, wife of the High Priest Menkheperra, and
mother of the High Priest Pinotem III. The centrepiece, in shape an oblong
square, is divided into three bands of sky-blue leather, now faded to
pearl-grey. The two side-pieces are sprinkled with yellow stars. Upon the
middle piece are rows of vultures, whose outspread wings protect the mummy.
Four other pieces covered with red and green chequers are attached to the
ends and sides. The longer pieces which hung over the sides are united to
the centre-piece by an ornamental bordering. On the right, scarabaei with
extended wings alternate with the cartouches of King Pinotem II., and are
surmounted by a lance-head frieze. On the left side, the pattern is more
complicated (fig. 273). In the centre we see a bunch of lotus lilies
flanked by royal cartouches. Next come two antelopes, each kneeling upon a
basket; then two bouquets of papyrus; then two more scarabaei, similar to
those upon the other border. The lance-head frieze finishes it above, as on
the opposite side. The technical process is very curious. The hieroglyphs
and figures were cut out from large pieces of leather; then, under the open
spaces thus left, were sewn thongs of leather of whatever colour was
required for those ornaments or hieroglyphs. Finally, in order to hide the
patchwork effect presented at the back, the whole was lined with long
strips of white, or light yellow, leather. Despite the difficulties of
treatment which this work presented, the result is most remarkable.[75] The
outlines of the gazelles, scarabaei, and flowers are as clean-cut and as
elegant as if drawn with the pen upon a wall-surface or a page of papyrus.
The choice of subjects is happy, and the colours employed are both lively
and harmonious.

[Illustration: Fig. 274. - Bark with cut leather sail; wall-painting tomb of
Rameses III.]

The craftsmen who designed and executed the canopy of Isiemkheb had
profited by a long experience of this system of decoration, and of the kind
of patterns suitable to the material. For my own part, I have not the
slightest doubt that the cushions of chairs and royal couches, and the
sails of funeral and sacred boats used for the transport of mummies and
divine images, were most frequently made in leather-work. The chequer-
patterned sail represented in one of the boat subjects painted on the wall
of a chamber in the tomb of Rameses III. (fig. 274), might be mistaken for
one of the side pieces of the canopy at Gizeh. The vultures and fantastic
birds depicted upon the sails of another boat (fig. 275) are neither more
strange nor more difficult to make in cut leather than the vultures and
gazelles of Isiemkheb.

[Illustration: Fig. 275. - Bark with cut leather sail; wall-painting tomb of
Rameses III.]

We have it upon the authority of ancient writers that the Egyptians of
olden time embroidered as skilfully as those of the Middle Ages. The
surcoats given by Amasis, one to the Lacedaemonians, and the other to the
temple of Athena at Lindos, were of linen embroidered with figures of
animals in gold thread and purple, each thread consisting of three hundred
and sixty-five distinct filaments. To go back to a still earlier period,
the monumental tableaux show portraits of the Pharaohs wearing garments
with borders, either woven or embroidered, or done in _appliqué_ work. The
most simple patterns consist of one or more stripes of brilliant colour
parallel with the edge of the material. Elsewhere we see palm patterns, or
rows of discs and points, leaf-patterns, meanders, and even, here and
there, figures of men, gods, or animals, worked most probably with the
needle. None of the textile materials yet found upon royal mummies are thus
decorated; we are therefore unable to pronounce upon the quality of this

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Online LibraryGaston Camille Charles MasperoManual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt → online text (page 17 of 21)