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Work Paintings from the tomb of Metjetji

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Peintures du tombeau de Métchétchi

© Musée du Louvre / C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Author(s):
Geneviève Pierrat-Bonnefois

As if by miracle, we can still admire fragments of a decoration that was painted on the mud and straw walls of an Egyptian tomb some 4300 years ago. The funerary cult of a high-ranking official and scenes of country life on his estate are brought back to life by these painted scenes. In the bird hunting scene, one of the ancient artists demonstrated particular virtuosity.

Paintings in an Old Kingdom tomb

Although the precise location of Metjetji’s tomb is unknown, one of his titles—"protégé of his master Unas"—suggests that he was buried in the vicinity of this king's pyramid in Saqqara. In view of the state of preservation of these highly fragile paintings, they must have adorned a hidden room rather than the offering chapel which was accessible to visitors. Indeed, it is a miracle that these works of art can still be admired, 4300 years after their creation. They were painted in tempera on a base of alluvial Nile clay mixed with straw (known as "mouna" in Arabic) which was applied to the chapel wall and left to dry before being coated with two layers of finer clay, the outer one of which contained plaster.

The duck catching scene

The decoration features both funerary rites and scenes of rural life. The bird-netting scene depicts a traditional country pursuit, thus bringing rural Egypt to life; the magic of the image also served to supply the deceased with food for the afterlife. In the bottom right, two rows of seated and lying figures pull with all their might on a rope that closes a net over the birds (only a small fragment of the birds is still visible on the right). The action unfolds among the thickets, where a heron appears to be a chance observer of the scene. The captured game birds are presented to the master in a series of images beginning on the left. Two servants bring clutches of live ducks that they appear to have taken from a large cage at their feet. A scribe records the quantities of goods delivered, according to the custom on the estates of high-ranking officials. Above, some ducks are held at arm's length by carriers while others await their fate on the ground or in netted cages.

A collective work

The human figures in these paintings are treated as symbols of actions, with no attempt at individualization, and the artist who painted them red often went over the edges. The birds, on the other hand, were painted with great care and skill. One can only admire the flowing lines of the clutches of ducks, their necks bent in various directions, and the delicate coloring that varies from one group to another. Some of the birds are all yellow, some are all blue, still others are yellow and blue, and the last but one group on the upper register features a rare and particularly effective detail: a subtle color gradation from yellow to white. This way of depicting a light-colored belly beneath a yellow back gives an impression of smoothness, suggesting the softness of feathers. Several different painters no doubt contributed to what was probably a collective work. Moreover, certain indications suggest that it was partly unfinished, which was the case with many tomb decorations.

Bibliography

- ZIEGLER C., Musée du Louvre Département des Antiquités Egyptiennes - Catalogue des stèles, peintures et reliefs égyptiens de l’Ancien Empire et de la Première Période Intermédiaire (vers 2686-2040 av. J.-C.), Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1990, p. 32-36, 123-151.

- L’Art égyptien au temps des pyramides, catalogue de l’exposition, Paris, Editions de la réunion des musées nationaux, 1999, p. 322, notice n° 150.

- ANDREU G., RUTSCHOWSCAYA M. H., ZIEGLER C., L’Egypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 69-70, notice n° 21.

Technical description

  • Peintures du tombeau de Métchétchi

    vers 2350 avant J.-C. (début 6e dynastie)

    Saqqara ?

  • torchis enduit et peint

    H. bird hunting scene fragment: 44 cm; W. reassembled series of paintings: approx. 7 m

  • E 25507, E 25508, E 25509, E 25510, E 25511, E 25512, E 25513, E 25514, E 25515, E 25516, E 25517, E 25518, E 25519, E 25520, E 25521, E 25522, E 25523, E 25524, E 25525, E 25526, E 25527, E 25528, E 25529, E 25530, E 25531, E 25532, E 25533, E 25534, E 25535, E 25536, E 25537, E 25538, E 25539, E 25540, E 25541, E 25542, E 25543, E 25544, E 25545, E 25546, E 25547, E 25548, E 25549

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Cattle breeding, hunting and fishing
    Room 5
    Vitrine 4 : Le tombeau de Métchétchi

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