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Work Chelidona's Coffin

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Chelidona's Coffin

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Marie-France Aubert

This coffin, created from several recycled boards that were skillfully assembled, has the same form as the pharaonic coffin with corner posts. The deceased, Chelidona, which means "swallow" in Greek, is depicted bedecked in jewelry, while the casket itself is decorated with many images, along with two inscriptions: one in demotic script, and the other in Greek.

Portrait of a Deceased in all her Finery

The deceased is portrayed on the board wearing a long white tunic decorated with clavi and double bands on the sleeves, and a cloak adorned with Greek geometric patterns. A net of cylindrical beads was placed over the tunic. The deceased is wearing earrings, a necklace of stones, a coiled chain that falls over her chest, and a pair of bracelets. Her hair frames her face and she wears the crown of roses meaning that Osiris has judged her worthy. A single line depicts the nose, eyes, and eyebrows. The Horus falcon deploys its wings above her head, and Isis and Nephthys are portrayed kneeling on either side of the head. Two jackals stand watch at her feet. Vine branches, a symbol of revival, run along the length of the body.

Water and Air: Life's Essential Elements

The narrow side at the foot of the casket is designed to represent the decor of a temple, through the use of superimposed cornices resting on small columns and pilasters. Inside, Horus and Anubis honor the deceased, reborn as Osiris. A dual representation of the winged solar disk and two serpents frames the three figures. Horus as a falcon is painted on the narrow side at the head of the coffin, replicating the image depicted on the board. Two serpents run along the length of the coffin. The bodies of the serpents, symbols of the Nile flood, form six intertwined designs within which are painted six eyes, intended to counter evil forces. The top of the coffin is divided in half by a strip down the middle bearing an inscription in demotic script. There are two long rectangles on either side of this strip: one contains an inscription in Greek; the other has been left blank. The four winds are portrayed as composite winged animals in the corners, on either side of the areas set aside for the inscriptions. The north wind is a four-headed ram; the south wind has a ram's head on a lion's body; the east wind has two heads - one a ram, the other a hippopotamus - on a scarab's body; and finally, the west wind has a ram's head on a falcon's body.

A Prayer for Chelidona

The demotic inscription is a prayer for the ba of the deceased to live and remain eternally young, for it to be protected by Osiris and to intercede with him in favor of those who provided this sepulcher.
The epitaph in Greek was written by the deceased's spouse: "Chelidona of the lovely curls, after living an irreproachable life for thirty-six years, six months and ten days, under the care of her daughter ... and with the help of Etleutos, her husband, rests in peace. I, Etleutos, myself wrote the name of my companion." Chelidona means "swallow" in Greek; its use as a proper name is extremely rare.
The portrait of the deceased is similar to those of women from the Soter family, whose tomb was in Thebes.

Bibliography

M.-F. Aubert, R. Cortopassi, catalogue de l'exposition Portraits de l'Egypte romaine, Paris, musée du Louvre, 5 octobre 1998-4 janvier 1999, Paris, 1998, n 95

Technical description

  • Chelidona's Coffin

    Second century AD

    Thebes (given the style)

  • Tamarisk and fig wood painted with distemper

    H. 0.59 m; L. 1.72 m; W. 0.53 m

  • Purchased Champollion mission, 1830

    N 2576

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
    Room A

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