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An Egyptian Corn Mummy and Sarcophagus, Late - Ptolemaic Period, ca 664 - 30 BC
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An Egyptian Corn Mummy and Sarcophagus, Late - Ptolemaic Period, ca 664 - 30 BC

The mummiform falcon-headed wood lid and base in black with gold details, the lid adorned with Isis and Nephthys on the lappets, a broad collar, a winged scarab, and three columns of hieroglyphs flanked by the Four Sons of Horus, two on each side, images of recumbent Anubis flanking the tomb’s door at the feet, a shen-sign on the bottom, the resin-coated mummy with linen bandages and a gilt linen Osiris visage within the hollowed-out base, the back inscribed at the top with an Apis bull beneath a winged solar disk, flanked by seated figures of ibis-headed Thoth, introducing three columns of faintly preserved hieroglyphs with prayers to the deities Osiris and Mut on behalf of the owner. 

Place of origin: likely the vicinity of Heracleopolis, specifically Abusir el-Meleq

Background:  Osiris, supreme god of resurrection, was closely associated with the life giving forces of nature, particularly the Nile and vegetation. Above all, he was connected with germinating grain. The emergence of a living, growing, plant from the apparently dormant seed hidden within the earth was regarded by the Egyptians as a metaphor for the rebirth of a human being from then lifeless husk of the corpse. The concept was translated into physical form by the fashioning of images of Osiris out of earth and grain.

These "corn-mummies" were composed of sand or mud, mixed with grains of barley. They generally have Osirian attributes and are often represented with an erect penis, symbolizing fecundity. As in this instance, the "mummy" is sometimes wrapped in linen bandages and may possess a finely detailed mask of wax, representing the face of Osiris. A few small figures of this type were found within the wrappings of mummies, but in general they were not destined for the tomb. The majority were made according to an elaborate ritual which took place during the annual festival of Osiris in the month of Khoiak, the fourth month of the inundation season.

This was intended to ensure the god’s resurrection and, by extension, the continuation of life in Egypt and the maintenance of the ordered universe. The corn-mummies were then carefully buried in sacred spots specifically designated for this purpose. In the most typical examples the mummy was placed inside a miniature anthropoid coffin of painted wood, which had the head of a falcon, probably alluding to the god Sokar, who usually took this form. [Taylor (22)]

The coffinette is of the yellow-on-black type. The wig lappets carry figures of Isis (right) and Nephthys (left). The head of the figure is spherical and projects far out from the wig. It is black with details painted in yellow. Considerable attention has been lavished on the falcon collar, the detailed decoration of which is characterized by bands filled with rosettes rendered in yellow pigment using the ‘dot-stippling method’. The collar is supported by strongly tapering figure of the winged Khepri. Some bands of the collar and the Khepri figure have red dots added to the yellow elements. Three long columns of inscription in dull red follow below the Khepri figure.

The text area is flanked by images of the Four Sons of Horus, each in a shrine-kiosk. The toe facet of the coffinette contains a motif of Wepwawet jackals atop sepulchres facing inward toward a shrine with closed doors. A shen-ring is painted on the underside of the foot. The wig area of the trough carries an important motif of the Hathor cow flanked by seated figures of the ibis-headed deity Thoth, wearing full atef crowns. These figures ‘sit’ on the top of a serekh-motif. The upper part of the zone is filled with the drooping wings of a large behdet-disk, from which a large swag descends. Three long columns of inscription in a hasty but legible hieroglyphic hand in red pigment are written on the rear of the trough that read:</p>
<p class="p1"><em>‘Words spoken by Osiris: Your mother Nut spreads herself around you in her name as a god without your enemies in her name of Great Sieve there being nothing of yours that is evil in (her) name (of …)’</em></p>
<p class="p1">The text is derived from the Pyramid Texts PT utterance 368, by far the most widely used of all the texts in that corpus relating to the protective powers of the goddess Nut.</p>

Height: 19 5/8 in. (49.8 cm.)

Condition:  Small chip to rim of upper coffin lid right quadrant, expected minor pigment loss, in particular to the nose of the falcon head and base. The gilt mask on corn mummy professionally stabilized with uraeus reattached, the mummy professionally stabilized with conservation textile applied. Overall intact and in excellent condition.

Provenance: Ben Wolf private collection, Philadelphia, 1914-1996, exhibited at Bryn Mawr college thereafter with Hesperia, Philadelphia, sold at Christies NY, June, 2003 Lot #113.

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