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Work Sistreum of Henuttawy, a chantress of Amun and Isis

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Sistreum of Henuttawy, a chantress of Amun and Isis

© R.M.N./H. Lewandowski

Egyptian Antiquities
The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Author(s):
Barbotin Christophe

The sistrum consists of a round handle and a hoop-shape that once held three metal rods fitted with bronze discs that created rattling sounds. Female temple musicians used this instrument in rites devoted to a divine cult. It features images of the goddesses Isis and Mut playing the sistrum for Amun depicted as a ram. This lavishly decorated object illustrates the power of Amun clergy, of which this singer Henuttawy.

A percussion instrument

This sistrum consists of two sections. The first is a round handle, the top of which is fashioned into the head of the goddess Hathor. Her head is framed by two cobras wearing the crown of Upper Egypt and two rows of seven cobras on the long sides, with only two on the shorter sides. The second section of the instrument consists of a bent metal hoop with three holes pierced on the each vertical section. Each pair of holes held a serpent-shaped metal rod fitted with metal discs.
When it was rattled, the instrument produced a sharp, staccato-like sound, hence the onomatopoeic Egyptian word for the sistrum: "sechech."

An instrument used essentially by women

The sistrum was the favorite instrument of the temple singers, or "chantresses," as it was created a rhythm for the songs required by the liturgy. As this was the only role held by women in the cult (with a few exceptions), they were therefore the only ones to use the sistrum. In this case, two goddesses depicted as musicians on the hoop: "Isis the great, mother of the god," on the one hand, and "Mut the great, the Lady of Asheru [Karnak]" on the other. They are both portrayed facing the ram of Amun, playing for his "perfect face," as indicated in the hieroglyphs written in front of them.

The decorative arts for the glory of Amun-Ra in Karnak

The marvelous technical and artistic quality of this instrument illustrates the wealth and power of the Amun clergy in the early years of the Third Intermediate Period, the summit of theocratic power in Upper Egypt. At this time, the great god of Karnak governed earthly affairs directly via its high priest, then somewhat later, via his Divine Adoratrice. As for the pharaoh, he ruled in the Delta, where he was essentially instructed to mind his own business. Under the Amun clergy, the art of bronze with gold inlays reached an extraordinary degree of perfection. The sistrum of Henuttawy, a female chantress of Isis and Amun, and especially the statue of the Divine Adoratrice of Karomama, also in the Louvre, are spectacular examples of this art.

Technical description

  • Sistreum of Henuttawy, a chantress of Amun and Isis

    Twenty-First or Twenty-Second Dynasty, c. 1069-664 BC

    Region of Thebes

  • Bronze with inlaid gold

    H: 40 cm; L: 7.5 cm; D: 6.1 cm

  • E 11201

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    From the year 1000 to the first Persian conquest, c. 1069–404 BC
    Room 29

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