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Work Stele of the master craftsman, scribe, and sculptor Irtysen

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Stele of the master craftsman, scribe, and sculptor Irtysen

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Author(s):
Letellier Bernadette

This large limestone stele was found in Abydos, a city which became an important pilgrimage site (dedicated to Osiris) during the Middle Kingdom. Pilgrims who visited Abydos had at least one stele erected there. The sculptor Irtysen's inscription vaunts his technical prowess; it is one of the very few Egyptian texts dealing with art.

A stele at a pilgrimage site

This large, arched limestone stele is covered in a hieroglyphic text fifteen lines long. It was discovered in Abydos, the holy city of Osiris, which became an important pilgrimage site from the Middle Kingdom onward. Pilgrims had at least one stele erected there, with an inscription conmemorating their names and reminding the god of their good behavior on earth.
The image beneath the text shows Irtysen, rod and scepter in hand, and his wife Hepu receiving the funerary offerings provided by their sons, daughter, and grandson.
On the lower register, an open window frames Irtysen, who is smelling a bottle of perfumed unguent, with his wife sitting nearby. On a pedestal table in front of them is a meal consisting of the offerings that are listed above. Beneath the seat is a basket containing a mirror.

An artist's biography

The inscription on this stele is an extraordinary biographical account in which the scribe and artist Irtysen boasts of his multiple skills:
"I know the secret of the divine word [i.e. of hieroglyphs], the composition of ceremonial rituals; I have acquired mastery over all the magical formulae, and there is nothing I don't know about them. Moreover I am a craftsman who excels at his art and has a superior level of knowledge; I know how to estimate dimensions, recut and fit until an element is in place. I know the posture of the male statue and the appearance of the female, the attitude of the eleven birds of prey, the convulsion of the isolated prisoner, how to portray a squint, the enemies' expression of terror, the arm movements of a hippopotamus hunter and the leg movements of a running man."

Manufacturing secrets

"I know how to make pigments, and products that melt without fire burning them and are moreover insoluble in water. Nobody will know of this except me and my eldest son, the god having ordered that he become an initiate, as I have noticed his ability to oversee works in all the precious materials from silver and gold to ivory and ebony."

Bibliography

- Ägypten 2000 vor Chr. Die Geburt des Inviduums, catalogue de l’exposition, Berlin, 2000, p. 60-63, 179, notice n° 10.

- ANDREU G., RUTSCHOWSCAYA M. H.,  ZIEGLER C., L’Egypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 80-81, notice n° 28.

Technical description

  • Stele of the master craftsman, scribe, and sculptor Irtysen

    Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty, reign of Nebhepetre Mentuhotpe (2033-1982 BC)

    Abydos (Upper Egypt)

  • Limestone, sculpture

    H. 1.17 m; W. 0.56 m

  • C 14

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Materials and techniques
    Room 7

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