EGYPTIAN GESSO PAINTED WOOD SARCOPHAGUS LID, CIRCA 600 B.C.

SOLD

Culture: Egyptian
Date: Circa 600 B.C. (Late Period)
Medium: Wood
Condition: Intact, very good overall , with custom base display stand
Provenance: Ex- K.S. collection, Southern California, U.S; Early New York private collection; with export receipt from the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities dated 1975. With Art Loss Register Certificate.
Dimensions: L. 57 in. (144.8 cm.), W. 15 in. (38.1 cm.)
Ref No. EG1143

Description

The figure wearing a headdress enshrouding his gilded face, a broad decorative collar, Maat with her wings out-spread, two recumbent facing Anubi underneath.
This elaborate sarcophagus lid is anthropoid in shape where the silhouette contours that of the human form. The apex is a detailed inlaid head placed into a wooden, sometimes terracotta, body piece that at first one may relate to box statues commonly known in Egypt, but the shape is actually reflecting off the body position of the dead that would be inside the sarcophagus. Egyptians had an intricate and somewhat mysterious ritual and symbolic culture, especially when it came to the afterlife and how they maintained their dead. The bodies would be preserved, or mummified by means of several steps of conservation where one is left with a wrapped body with the arms crossed-tucked in and the legs tightly pressed together, hence the shapes of the anthropoid lid being slightly rectangular.

The particular sarcophagus lid here is a good representation of what one would find typically in a tomb during the 26th Dynasty, Saite Period, which is also referred to as the beginning of the Late Period between 685-525 BC. It was at this time one would see the depleting of Egyptian Culture for a new and more eclectic one, with a touch of Roman, Greek, Persian, and Assyrian styles. It’s due to this reason that the sarcophagus decoration actually became less complex in decor. Sarcophagus building for a single-inhumation was done in three steps usually with an inner coffin where the body is placed, a mid convexed-coffin with simple decor and usually covered with excerpts from the Book of the Dead at the time, and an outer most rectangular coffin. This inner coffin lid is more flat and main purpose is support and representation of the dead inside.
This wooden lid is first covered by gesso, or thin layer of white plaster to be used as the foregrounds for the paint. One then would notice the gilded head, or covered in a thin layer of gold, shaped by repousse, that was inlaid on the wooden frame. The facial features are typical Egyptian with elongated eyes and eyebrows reaching the outermost temple of the face and encircled with thick black lines representing the make-up worn by Egyptians to protect their eyes from the sun. There is a simple wig falling at the shoulder length to the body that conveys paintings from Egyptian Mythology. By the shoulders there are two symmetrical bird figures symbolizing either the Ba, the part of the soul that is considered personality that leaves the body after death, or a falcon, the attribute of Horus, god of the sky and son of Osiris, god of afterlife and Isis, goddess of ritual of life. Beneath is a wide decorative collar, seen on most sarcophagi, and vacui in style, where there is little empty space. Below that is a depiction of Maat with outspread wings. She was the goddess of justice and she would weigh the hearts of the dead with an ostrich feather, or shu-feather, to determine the status in their afterlife. Below are two jackals mirroring one another as a portrayal of the god Anubis who was the god of burial rituals and protector of the dead. The vertical lines could perhaps be mirroring a djed, to symbolize support.

Bibliography

R, C. L. “A Late Egyptian Sarcophagus.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 5 (1914): 112-20. Web. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3253860.

Cf: Lot 70, Christie’s South Kensington, Important Antiquities Auction, April 1999.