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Work Funerary hanging
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)
On this large linen cloth are painted three figures, standing on the solar bark. Anubis, god of embalming, enfolds the deceased in the garment of the living, symbolizing the latter’s transformation into Osiris, on his right. Beside his head, a shaduf symbolizes the water needed for his survival. The purely Egyptian rendering of the figure of Anubis and the Hellenistic depictions of the deceased and of Osiris exemplify the mixed style characteristic of the art of Roman Egypt.
A young man flanked by funerary gods
The young man is dressed in a white tunic with narrow clavi (stripes), and a white cloak with an H motif. The cloak covers his right arm, folded over the breast. In his left hand he holds the wreath of roses of one justified before Osiris, indicating that he has been judged righteous by Osiris and may thus enter his new life.
The short, curly hair reveals the ears. The eyes are large beneath arched eyebrows, the nose long, the small mouth is painted in pink. The young man, smaller than the two other figures, stands barefoot on a pedestal, the weight of the body resting on one leg, with the other slightly bent, in a typically Hellenistic attitude.
On the right, Anubis is represented in the Egyptian manner: shoulders depicted frontally, the head and feet in profile. Dressed in a long loincloth, he wears the striped nemes headdress, and on his head is the lunar disk, an image of regeneration. His left hand rests on the shoulder of the deceased in a gesture of protection and accompaniment. Anubis symbolizes the Egyptian concept of the passage from death to a new life.
On the left, the deceased, now become the divine Osiris, is shown frontally, wrapped in bandages that leave only the face and hands visible. He holds the scepter and the whip. The face is rendered with a certain Hellenistic naturalism rather than in the more graphic Egyptian style.
The journey to the hereafter
The bark on which the figures stand is the symbol of the dead person’s journey to a new life. The deceased, judged righteous, will become a new Osiris. Between the figures are the four canopic jars which hold the entrails of the deceased; their lids take the form of the heads of the four sons of Horus, protective spirits. Beneath two of the jars, between Osiris and the deceased, Anubis holds the scales for the “weighing of the heart,” a decisive stage in the progress to a new life. In the upper left-hand corner, a servant operates the shaduf, the traditional Egyptian mechanism for raising water, water being indispensable to survival after death. Finally, between the heads of Osiris and the deceased, a winged lion is seated: a funerary genius of oriental origin, it protects the deceased.
This hanging is a perfect example of the combination of Egyptian and Hellenistic styles and beliefs. While the young man is depicted as a citizen of the Roman Empire, all the other elements indicate the predominance of Egyptian beliefs. Other examples of “three-figure” hangings, all of them found at Saqqara, are held in museums. Their use is unknown, although some were clearly not employed for wrapping the mummy, as were other shrouds in the Louvre. It is likely that they were displayed in the course of the ceremonies, in remembrance of the deceased.
The head and neck of the young man are painted on a square of fabric that has been glued and sewn to the rest of the hanging. This feature is found in other hangings from Saqqara. It may have been a way of reusing an old hanging, or it may have been the addition of an individual portrait to a standard hanging produced by a specialist workshop.
P. (du) Bourguet, L’art copte, Petits guides des grands musées n° 19, Paris, 1980, p. 2 et fig. p. 1 ;
E. Doxiadis, Portraits du Fayoum. Visages de l’Egypte ancienne, Paris, 1995, n° 13 p. 20 et 187 ;
F. Dunand, R. Lichtenberg, Les momies, un voyage dans l’éternité, Découvertes Gallimard n° 118, Paris, 1991, p. 65 ;
S. Walker, M. Bierbrier, catalogue de l’exposition Ancient Faces. Mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, Londres, British Museum, 1997, n° 105 ;
Catalogue de l’exposition Art copte, Paris, Petit Palais, 17 juin-15 septembre 1964, n° 24 ;
Catalogue de l’exposition Etats du lin, Roubaix, Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, 23 mai-28 juin 1992, p. 19 ;
Early 2nd century AD
Distemper on linen
H. 1.80 m; W. 1.28 m
Lower ground floor
Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
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