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Work Senusret, chief of the treasury
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)
Senusret, overseer of the treasury
© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)
Egyptian funerary steles such as this one played an important magico-religious role. They served to recommend the deceased to the god (in this case Osiris, ruler of the underworld), so that he might benefit from the offerings necessary to his survival through the intermediary of the texts and images that were inscibed on them. The living also had a role to play: by reading the stele, they activated the names of the deceased and his offerings, thereby ensuring that his life continued.
Abydos, a pilgrimage center
During the Middle Kingdom, considerable importance was accorded to the god Osiris, who was king of the dead and responsible for their survival in the afterlife. His cult city of Abydos, in the north of Upper Egypt, became an important pilgrimage site where families set up chapels or steles. Many of the latter have been found, enabling Egyptologists to reconstruct not only entire families but also a whole class of officials who had proudly proclaimed their status.
This monument represents both the deceased and the food he would need in the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians believed that words and representations could become reality; images could therefore compensate for any material lack of food.
A rigorous composition
Certain style criteria have enabled us to date this stele. Its rigorous composition - an arrangement of rectangular frames - is characteristic of the 12th Dynasty, and forms a striking contrast with the rather crude style of the First Intermediate Period. The first two lines of the upper register contain a prayer to the god Osiris, together with the titles of the deceased: "Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt", "Sole Companion" (a court title), "Chief of the Courtroom". The rest of the text (the third row, and the four columns underneath) provides autobiographical details: "I came down from my city into the necropolis; I had done what men liked and what pleased the gods; I was a wise man, following the straight and narrow way, who reported faithfully to the one who had sent him; I accomplished royal missions, and received my reward in the courtroom.."
One man and his food
The scene represents Senusret, the deceased, facing an offering table. Carved in bas-relief on a recessed rectangular background, he is shown in a striding position with hugely oversized arms at his sides and a few folds of fat to indicate his prosperity. He wears a collar necklace and a long kilt, which is tied at the front, accentuating the curve of his buttocks. His name and one of his titles (Chief of the Treasury) are inscribed at head height in front of him, on a flared vase imitating calcite - a finely-veined stone of which most unguent vases were made.
The food piled on the table (depicted inside a rigorously rectangular area) typifies funerary offerings, with the ritual leg of beef, a duck, various breads, onions, a lettuce, figs, and lotus flowers (some of which are in bud); at the foot of the table is a stand bearing libation vases and beer jars.
Senusret, overseer of the treasury
C. 1970-1900 BC (beginning of 12th Dynasty)
H. 81.50 cm; W. 49.50 cm
The Middle Kingdom, c. 2033–1710 BC
Display case 12: 12th-Dynasty stelae
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