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Work The four canopic jars of Horemsaf

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

Les quatre vases "canopes" de Horemsaf

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

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

Sylvie Varry

All four of these calcite “canopic” jars—the modern term used for the containers that were used to store the internal organs removed from the deceased's body during mummification—belonged to the same person, who lived during the Late Period. Their stoppers were made in the likeness of Horus’s four sons, funerary gods whose role was to guard the internal organs.

Horemsaf's canopic jars

Each of the four jars belonging to Horemsaf was carved in alabaster. They are hollow, and slender in shape, flaring slightly toward the top. The belly of each jar bears an incised inscription: four columns within a rectangular frame. The stoppers in the shape of animal heads (a jackal, a baboon, and a falcon) were rather roughly carved with little attention to detail, whereas the stopper shaped like a human head (representing Imsety) was more carefully worked.

Four canopic jars, four Sons of Horus, and four goddesses

During the New Kingdom, the iconography used for canopic jar stoppers reproduced that of the Four Sons of Horus, deities who protected the internal organs: human-headed Imsety, baboon-headed Hapi, jackal-headed Duamutef, and falcon-headed Qubehsenuf. Each of Horus’s sons, paired with a goddess, was responsible for the protection of a particular organ: Imsety and Isis guarded the liver, Hapi and Nephthys the lungs, Duamutef and Neith the stomach, and finally Qubehsenuf and Selket the intestines.
The formula inscribed on the belly of each canopic jar also associated a son of Horus and a goddess. It quoted the protective words spoken by the goddess on behalf of the Son of Horus with whom the deceased was assimilated.

Real and dummy canopic jars

Funerary practices were modified during the 21st Dynasty. The organs that were removed during mummification were replaced in the mummy’s abdominal cavity after being mummified and wrapped in linen; these are known as "canopic packages." Although canopic jars were no longer required to store the organs, they had become very important items of funerary equipment and continued to be made; the hollow jars were simply replaced by dummies that were not hollowed out.
During the Late Period, "canopic packages" were placed either near the mummy—sometimes between its legs—or more rarely in canopic jars. During this period therefore, there were both dummy canopic jars and real ones such as the jars in this series.

Technical description

  • Les quatre vases "canopes" de Horemsaf

    Basse Epoque, 664 - 332 avant J.-C.

  • albâtre égyptien (calcite)

    H. : 36,50 cm.

  • E 18876, E 18877, E 18878, E 18879

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The Book of the Dead
    Room 319
    Vitrine 4 : Les vases à viscères ("canopes")

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