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Work Vase with the name of King Wenis

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Vase au nom du roi Ounas

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Labbé-Toutée Sophie

Many vases, mostly of semi-precious stone or calcite, have been found in royal and aristocratic sepulchers from the Old Kingdom. Carved with care, these vases sometimes also bear inscriptions. They were designed to contain unguents and perfumes, as well as fruits and grains. We do not known the origin of this vase, an exceptional example with its spherical shape and an engraved design, representing the cartouche of King Wenis, from the Fifth Dynasty.

Eternal use

These beautifully made vases were produced in the workshops of the royal residence. Calcite, or Egyptian alabaster, was the material of choice for these recipients designed to contain unguents. The veins in the calcite highlight the remarkable design of this piece. The apparently solid stone evokes strength and continuity, and was therefore used for recipients intended for eternal use and placed in tombs.

The sed festival and royal gifts

Vases bearing royal names were certainly commissioned by sovereigns themselves as gifts for their most loyal servants. This would appear to have been customary, especially during the sed, or royal jubilee, that took place in the thirtieth year of a king's reign. Inscriptions on some vases make reference to this festival, moreover. This could be seen as a political gesture, intended to underscore the king's power while honoring his favorites. The latter would then take these tokens of royal favor to the grave with them. It is also possible that the unguent or oil contained in these vases played a part in the jubilee celebrations.

A rare design

Engraved designs were rare in the Old Kingdom. The technique was a more difficult method of inscribing text than painting, and also carried greater risks, as a single false move could damage the vase beyond repair.
The decor of this vase is unusually large in its proportions. The great falcon Horus, wings outspread, covers one side of the waist of the vase in its entirety. In its claws it holds two "shen" signs, symbols of longevity and eternity. The cartouche of Wenis, king of Upper and Lower Egypt, is framed by two "ankh" symbols, presented by cobras. In all its aspects, this piece evokes the eternal renewal of life.


L'Art égyptien au temps des pyramides, exhibition catalogue, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1999.

Technical description

  • Vase au nom du roi Ounas

    2380 - 2350 avant J.-C., (5e dynastie)

  • albâtre

    H. : 16 cm. ; D. : 14 cm.

  • E 32372

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The Old Kingdom, c. 2700–2200 BC
    Room 635
    Vitrine 19 : Ivoires et vases royaux

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