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Work False Door on the Stele of Sheshi
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs
False Door on the Stele of Sheshi
© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps
Religious and funerary beliefs
The false door provided a way by which the deceased could pass from the world of the dead to the world of the living. This important functional element in Egyptian tombs therefore also served a magical purpose. This chapel was part of the tomb's superstructure and was accessible to the living, as opposed to an underground section containing the body of the deceased that was walled in during the burial ceremonies. This stele belonged to a dignitary from the Old Kingdom, Sheshi.
A stele designed as a door
The stele is fashioned in the shape of a door; a thin slit at the bottom in the center represents a false opening. It is framed by a protruding ridge lined with strips and topped by a curved cornice, as was common during this period. The colors, however, are more unusual, and the red, blue, and green are still visible. They represent the structure of palms and plant fibers, re-creating for the deceased the lightweight dwellings of the living. Placed against a wall of the tomb chapel, the stele was intended as a door for the deceased, Sheshi, whose names and images cover the walls of the object.
Ensuring communication between the dead and the living
Three lines under the cornice carry prayers to Osiris and Anubis for Sheshi: "Blessed with the great god, the inspector of clerks, Sheshi." The deceased is portrayed in a standing position on the left, holding a rod and wearing a short kilt. Below, the two recessed lines indicate the titles of the legal civil servant who worked at the pyramid of King Pepy. Farther down, a rectangular scene depicts the deceased sitting at a table of offerings holding several highly stylized slices of bread. Sheshi is smelling an unguent recipient; note the ewer in its dish on the bottom left. This scene takes place inside the burial vault.
The table scene and the door are framed by two sets of double vertical strips. They form a short prayer in support of the deceased, expressing the wish "that he follow the beautiful paths of the West, that he touch the earth, that he cross the firmament, that he rise to the great god, that he be accompanied by his ka." The invocation formulas giving him use of the offering during festivals are written on the left column. The deceased is portrayed at the bottom of each column, holding his large staff in one hand and the sekhem scepter in the other. He was supposed to use the door to communicate with the world of the living, and be able to partake of the food and refreshments placed on the table of offerings.
An officiant of the royal funerary cult
We do not know the exact origin of this stele. The presence of a rare deity, in this case the god Djed who seems to have been particularly favored in the Saqara necropolis, suggests that this was the site of Sheshi's tomb.
Given this dignitary's functions, he worked at the pyramid of Pepy I, the third king of the 6th Dynasty. The tomb is therefore no earlier than this reign. But the funerary cult of Pepy continued for a fairly long time, so that we must examine stylistic elements to determine a more precise date. The wig with long horizontal curls and the exposed ears were more common during the reign of Pepy II, who succeeded Merenre (who ruled just after Pepy I).
Cénival Jean-Louis de, "A propos de la stèle de Chéchi. Étude de quelques types de titulatures privées de l'Ancien Empire", Revue d'égyptologie, n 27, 1975.
Desroches-Noblecourt Christiane, "Acquisitions de 1973", in Revue du Louvre, n I, 1974, pp. 49-53.
Goedicke Hans, "A deification of a private person in Old Kingdom", Journal of Egyptian Archeology, n 41, 1955, pp. 31-33.
Ziegler Christiane, Catalogues des stèles, peintures et reliefs égyptiens de l'Ancien Empire et de la première période intermédiaire, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1990, pp. 222-227.
False Door on the Stele of Sheshi
Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty, 2350-2200 BC
Limestone, sculpture (bas-relief and sunken relief) painting
H.: 1.3 m; W: 0.63 m; D.: 0.07 m
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