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Work Scene in the Nile marshes

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life

Scène dans les marais du Nil

© R.M.N./H. Lewandowski

Egyptian Antiquities
Objects from everyday life

Benazeth Dominique, Aït-Kaci Lili

Many 18th Dynasty tombs featured representations of the tomb owner hunting. This fragment shows birds flying away from a clump of papyrus, disturbed by a genet and a mongoose that are threatening their nests; we can distinguish a hoopoe, ducks, an owl, a heron, and even some butterflies. The fresh colors and the liveliness of the scene reflect the painter's skill.

The papyrus marsh, an Egyptian landscape

The extraordinary precision of paintings and reliefs from the Pharaonic period give us a clear picture of the landscapes of the time. Huge thickets of papyrus grew in the meanders and marshes bordering the Nile; their triangular stems bore green umbels that could reach a height of six meters. This plant has now disappeared from Egypt. In Antiquity, these papyrus thickets swarmed with animal life. Birds' nests swayed at the top of the stems which cobras, mongooses, and wild cats attempted to climb, while swarms of birds and insects flew above the water.

The first visitor

In 1822 Frédéric Cailliaud was the first Western man to enter the intact tomb of Neferhotep, the "Overseer of the Two Granaries" of Tuthmosis III or Amenophis II. The drawing he made shows precisely what the inside of the tomb looked like. It was also Frédéric Cailliaud who rediscovered the pyramids at Meroë (Sudan).

Wildlife scenes

This painting was the central part of a hunting and fishing scene, perhaps intended to entertain the deceased in the afterlife, or to symbolize the struggle against chaos (evoked by these marshy areas populated with wild animals). Such scenes featured in many tombs, from the Old Kingdom through the Late Period. The painter rendered this wildlife with a keen sense of observation, composition, and color. He painted the fluttering of butterflies and birds (wild ducks, hoopoe, heron, etc); one bird sits on its eggs, fledglings squawk in their nest and, below, a duck dives into the river. Two little carnivores take a great interest in this commotion: a mongoose (on the right) and a genet (on the left). The fan-shaped arrangement of the thicket is not disturbed by this intense activity, however. The dark green of the sturdy papyrus stems stands out against a light green semi-circular background. The umbels form a lovely decorative frieze against a white background: each one fits into the space defined by its neighbors. The umbels on the shortest stems are in bud, while the slightly taller ones have corollas; the tallest are in full bloom, their tips joining in a continuous yellow festoon, hatched with red.


Collectif, Les antiquités égyptiennes, Guide du visiteur, 1997, p. 27
Ziegler, Le monde de la Bible, 1992, T. 78, p. 43
Delange, Trésors du plus grand musée du monde, 1991, p. 73
Manniche, The lost tombs of Thebes, 1988, p.43 SQQ
La naissance de l'écriture, Paris, Grand Palais, 1982, notice no. 301
La vie au bord du Nil au temps des Pharaons, Calais, 1980, p.20 et 21, notice no. 1
Porter et Moss, Topographical bibliography, 1973, T. I, p. 449, n 1
Keimer, Ann. Serv. antiquités, 1937, T. 37

Technical description

  • Scène dans les marais du Nil

    vers 1450 - 1400 avant J.-C. (milieu 18e dynastie)

    Thèbes, tombe de Néferhétep

  • peinture sur limon

    H. : 43 cm. ; l. : 74,50 cm.

  • E 13101

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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