Egypt, Late Dynastic to Ptolemaic periods, ca. 664 to 30 BCE. A beautiful section of gessoed cartonnage - layers of linen or papyrus covered with plaster, formed into a panel to line the inside of a sarcophagus or used as mummy decoration. This section is comprised of a stylized scarab beetle with thin legs and large wing panels, with a pair of enormous wings - suggestive of the winged Isis - projecting laterally from its sides. The wings are each decorated with three rows of colorful feathers in hues of ruby and dark turquoise, with a thin gold-hued border separating each section as well as the peripheries. The front legs of the scarab hold aloft a yellow-painted sun disk, with two vertical columns of hieroglyphics on either side - read right to left, top to bottom. This section would have been placed near the abdomen of the mummified individual. Mounted on a felt-lined wooden panel. Size (cartonnage): 13.5" W x 6.25" H (34.3 cm x 15.9 cm); size (mount): 15.75" W x 9" H (40 cm x 22.9 cm).
By the time of the Late Dynastic period, the elaborate funerary rituals and furniture of the Egyptian grave had become an industry, mass produced, and given to, for the first time, the non-elite. While on the one hand, this signaled a decline in these religious practices and a simplification of motifs and artwork, it also represented a democratization of death, opening up access to privileged religious and afterlife-ensuring rituals to many more members of the society.
Provenance: private Davis collection, Houston, Texas, USA; ex-Bonham's London Antiquities Auction, 8 May, 2013, lot 317; ex-private M.D. collection, Belgium, formed before 1960
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