Egypt, Late Period, 26th to 30th Dynasties, ca. 672 to 343 BCE. A striking Egyptian polychrome wood bust from an anthropoid sarcophagus of a woman, presenting an intoxicating visage that is at once remarkably human yet theatrical, with a head that is characteristically oversized relative to the body and bold features including very large, dramatically lined open eyes gazing steadfastly ahead framed by elegant brows that lead to a straight nose and gently smiling lips above a rounded chin, with a creamy white complexion, framed by a long tripartite black and blue striped wig. Adorning the chest is an elaborate polychrome collar with lotus flower and Isis iconography as well as beautiful 'beaded' strands, all delineated in cornflower blue, mint green, russet red, and creamy beige hues, the details of which are very well preserved. Size: 18.5" W x 37.25" H (47 cm x 94.6 cm); 39.25" H (99.7 cm) on included custom stand.
The beautiful collar features a blue lotus flower with budded tendrils in blue and red over a red ground at the top - and the goddess Isis sitting upon her knees while spreading her wings and donning her characteristic sun disk flanked by hieroglyphic panels is at the lower end. Between these iconographic highlights are many splendiferous rows of special beads of various shapes and vibrant hues.
Egyptians cultivated lotuses in the marshy land around the Nile, and it was believed that the flower gave them power and strength, perhaps relating to the use of a stylized lotus as a capital motif at the top of columns. Lotuses were also used as funerary adornments - for example, remains of the flower have been found in the tomb of Ramesses II - and as temple offerings and garlands worn by women during rituals.
The goddess Isis' story is central to the resurrection of the god Osiris - who in turn was central to the written and painted symbols of resurrection of the dead that formed such a crucial part of Egyptian cosmology.
These painted sections are made of gesso (a mixture of chalk, pigment, and gypsum) over wide linen strips over wood; a surface like this made for a more stable surface for painting. All in all, the painted iconography on this sarcophagus panel makes for a wondrous example of traditional Egyptian funerary art.
Ancient Egyptians believed it was of the utmost importance to preserve a body of the deceased, because the soul needed a place to reside after the death. Preservation of the body was done via mummification - a process involving the removal of internal organs that were placed in canopic jars, wrapping body in linen, and then embalming. Death masks and sarcophagus panels like this example were created so that the soul could recognize the body and return to it.
Cf. a full anthropoid sarcophagus from Akhmim, now in the British Museum, illustrated in J. H. Taylor, "Egyptian Coffins" (Aylesbury 1989), fig. 51, p. 62.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-private German collection, acquired in 1980; ex-Norman Bankman collection, New York, USA, acquired in 1950s; purportedly authenticated by Dr. Manfred Weber of Cologne University
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