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Work Ostrakon with a royal profile

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Profil royal, sans doute Ramsès VI

© 2004 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Guichard Sylvie

This piece of limestone, which is decorated on both sides, is called an ostakon (plural: ostraka), from the Greek word for "shell." Modern archeologists use this word to designate pottery shards or flakes of limestone inscribed with texts or images. Egyptian artists used ostraka for sketches or preliminary drawings.

Decoration on the front and back

The front side of this ostrakon is decorated with a royal profile, facing to the right; it was drawn using red and yellow-ocher ink, with black highlights. The king is wearing the blue khepresh crown adorned with a protective cobra and two ribbons falling on his neck. The earlobe still has the mark of earrings, which were common starting with the late 18th Dynasty. The cheeks are indicated by a circle of red ink wash. The fleshy chin, large aquiline nose, small mouth, and lines on the chin identify this figure as Ramesses VI, the fifth pharaoh of the 22th Dynasty. Several ostraka with this same face were discovered in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. On the reverse side is a fragmentary sketch of a large royal headdress, alongside a drawing of a magnificent rearing cobra, an image of the goddess Wadjet, painted in yellow, perhaps to evoke gold. The perfect lines of these sketches point to an expert hand, probably that of a workman from the late Ramessid period whose job was to decorate royal tombs.

Deir el-Medina

The site of Deir el-Medina, nestled in a valley of the Theban mountains, was home to a community of artists during the Ramessid period. They were responsible for the construction and decoration of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. For 30 years, French archeologist Bernard Bruyère excavated the necropolis, the painted burial vaults, the chapels topped with small pyramids, and the homes of the foremen, quarrymen, sculptors, draftsmen, and painters. These workmen were divided into two teams; they worked in the royal tombs for ten straight days and then returned to their village to pursue other occupations.

Figurative ostraka

The subjects inscribed on ostraka are extremely varied: animals; scenes of birth, nursing, and washing; musicians; satirical scenes; and even images of royalty. A large number of the figurative ostraka known today come from the ruins of the village of Deir el-Medina, where thousands were unearthed from an enormous, 40-meter-deep pit. These small, anonymous documents constitute a priceless source of information concerning everyday life at the end of the New Kingdom.


Les Artistes de Pharaon, Deir el-Médineh et la Vallée des Rois, catalogue d’exposition, Louvre/Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 2002, notice 114.

- MINAULT- GOUT A., Carnets de pierre. L’art des ostracas dans l’Egypte ancienne, Paris, 2002, p. 22/3.

B. LETELLIER, L.M. BERMAN, Pharaohs. Treasures of Egyptian Art from the Louvre, The Cleveland Museum of Art in association with Oxford Press, 1996, p. 75 et 97.

- Mémoires d’Egypte, catalogue d'exposition, Bibliothèque Nationale, Strasbourg, 1990, p. 162.

Technical description

  • Profil royal, sans doute Ramsès VI

    1143 - 1136 avant J.-C. (20e dynastie)

  • éclat de calcaire peint

    H. : 21,30 cm. ; L. : 22,50 cm.

  • N 498

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The New Kingdom
    Room 641
    Vitrine 8 : Les derniers rois ramessides

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