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Work Khabekhent's funerary servant and ushabti chest

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Serviteur funéraire de Khabekhent, artisan des tombes royales

© 2001 RMN / Franck Raux

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Author(s):
Bovot Jean-Luc

Khabekhent's funerary servant and chest were discovered in 1886 in the untouched tomb of his father, Sennedjem, in Deir el-Medina. Although the village craftsmen had few statuettes, the quality of those that remain illustrate their social standing and expertise. The chest is shaped like an archaic chapel from Lower Egypt. The decorated surface features the deceased, smelling a lotus, and his heavily bejeweled wife, both sitting under a canopy. The style is in keeping with the lavish decoration.

Essential objects of funerary furniture

The statuette of Khabekhent has the "classic" appearance of the deceased, represented as a mummy and wrapped in an immaculate shroud with his arms crossed. He is wearing an imposing tripartite wig; the three large locks are held in place with colored ribbons. The rows of the large multicolor necklace are wrapped around his neck. He is holding a hoe in each hand. Chapter VI of the Book of the Coming Forth by Day is painted on his legs. The upper line reads: "Khabekhent, servant in the Place of Truth." The painted and stuccoed wood box has runners and a curved top, and is formed in the shape of the archaic Per-nu Chapel in Lower Egypt.
Only one side is decorated: it illustrates the couple seated under a canopy of reeds, topped by two wedjat eyes. Both are sitting on seats with animal legs, the deceased smelling a lotus flower, alongside his lavishly bejeweled wife, Iset. Inscriptions identify them both.

Revealing objects

The technical mastery illustrated in this carved ushabti is typical of the Deir el-Medina "style" and the excellent work produced by the villagers. The stocky and richly colored figures were skillfully carved and detailed. It reflects the wealth of the Sennedjem family of craftsmen, of which Khabekhent was a member. This opulence is also visible in the ushabti chests. Khabekhent had at least four chests, now in museums in Cairo, Copenhagen, Moscow, and Paris. The style of these objects is similar to the rich decoration on the walls of the Sennedjem burial vault. The servant figurine is, by nature, a funerary object, while the chest features significant motifs: the wedjat eye symbolizes the integrity of the body; the lotus flower, eternity. The canopy represents the purification tent in which bodies were placed prior to the mummification process.

A traditional funerary practice

Regardless of the rank of the Deir-el-Medina craftsmen in the village hierarchy, they also placed funerary servants, known as ushabtis (or shabtis), in their tombs. These were small wooden or terracotta figurines made to resemble the mummified body of the deceased. The sole function of these statuettes was to serve the deceased; the small figures replaced the dead in all the essential, especially agricultural tasks that were required of the deceased in the afterlife. Their modest appearance is part of a complex concept of life after death. Food offerings were required; they linked the idea of a hierarchical rural society to survival that depended on the performance of agricultural tasks.
At Deir-el-Medina, the deceased had a maximum of a dozen statuettes placed in a model coffin, in a chest, and sometimes even on the ground. They were identified by a text written either in a simple column indicating the name and titles of the dead, or in the form of Chapter VI from The Book of the Coming Forth by Day. The various accoutrements provided with the statuettes - sacks of seeds or hoes - correspond to these eternal obligations.

Technical description

  • Serviteur funéraire de Khabekhent, artisan des tombes royales

    vers 1250 avant J.-C.

  • calcaire peint

    H. : 18,90 cm. ; L. : 6,30 cm. ; Pr. : 3,80 cm.

  • E 27148

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The Book of the Dead
    Room 17
    Vitrine 3 : Serviteurs funéraires. Coffrets à serviteurs funéraires.

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