Egyptian Funerary Art

Egyptian funerary art was inseparable to the religious belief that life continued after death and that death was a mere phase of life. Aesthetic objects and images connected with this belief were partially intended to preserve material goods, wealth and status for the journey between this life and the next, and to commemorate the life of the tomb owner, depict performance of the burial rites, and in general present an environment that would be conducive to the tomb owner’s rebirth.

Coffins

The coffin’s primary function was to provide a home for the Ka and to protect the physical body from harm.

Detail of the innermost coffin of Tutankhamun, c. 1355–1346 BC, wood, gold leaf, semi-precious stones and inlaid glass. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

At the end of the Old Kingdom, it became customary once more for the body to be laid on its side. The side of the coffin that faced east in the tomb was decorated with a pair of eyes so that the deceased could look out towards the rising sun with its promise of daily rebirth. Coffins also began to be decorated on the outside with bands of funerary texts, while pictures of food and drink offerings were painted on the inside to provide a magical substitute for the real provisions placed in the tomb.

Coffin of Nesykhonsu, c. 976 BC, gessoed and painted sycamore fig. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Masks

Funerary masks have been used at all periods. Whether in a funerary or religious context, the purpose of a mask was the same: to transform the wearer from a mortal to a divine state.

The Mask of Tutankhamun, c. 1327 BC, gold, glass and semi-precious stones. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Canopic Jars

Canopic jars are vessels which were used for storing the internal organs removed during mummification. 

Canopic jars, c. 900–800 BC, painted limestone. Walters Art Museum.

During the First Intermediate Period, the stoppers of canopic jars began to be modeled in the form of human heads. From the late 18th Dynasty, they were more commonly modelled to resemble the heads of the protecting genii (baboon, jackal, falcon and human).

Ushabtis

The purpose of Ushabtis was to act as a substitute for the deceased when he was called upon to perform agricultural work or corvée labour in the afterlife. They evolved in the Middle Kingdom from the servant statues included among grave goods. The earliest examples were crude statuettes in wax, clay or wood; later, they were fashioned as mummiform figures and, from the end of the 12th Dynasty, they were customarily inscribed with the ‘ushabti text’.

Ushabti of Sennedjem, c. 1279–1213 BC, painted limestone. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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