Sunday, September 27, 2015

Museum Pieces - Coffin cover of King Antef Sekhemrê Herouhermaât

Coffin cover of King Antef Sekhemrê Herouhermaât

By Rigault Patricia

The coffin cover of Antef Sekhemrê Herouhermaât represents the king as a mummy wrapped in a shroud decorated with two large winged figures. On his head the dead sovereign is wearing the pleated cloth headdress known as a "nemes," adorned with feathers. A broad necklace with fasteners in the shape of falcon heads covers his chest. The relatively rudimentary depiction of the body and face, as well as the brightly colored design, give this royal coffin a rather crude appearance. 

"Rishi" coffins

These mummy-shaped coffins, entirely decorated with feathers and known as "rishi" ("feathered" in Arabic), appeared primarily in the Theban region from the Seventeenth Dynasty. This highly unusual style continued into the Eighteenth Dynasty. Constructed or carved from wood, they were decorated according to the status of the dead person, whether a member of the royal family or merely a private citizen. In general, the latter made do with a crudely carved coffin decorated with a bright, colorful design. Royal coffins, by contrast, were more sophisticated and were sometimes even richly gilded.

A modest royal coffin

The coffin of King Antef Sekhemrê Herouhermaât is exceptional in that it is more like the coffin of a private individual than that of a sovereign. This may have been due to the brevity of his reign. Royal or not, the head was almost invariably covered with the "nemes," a pleated cloth headdress, while the pharaonic emblem of the cobra was often placed on the forehead. Finally, a large necklace with fasteners in the shape of falcons' heads often adorned the chest.

The Antef kings and the Seventeenth Dynasty

An inscription painted in a vertical column in the center of the coffin indicates the birth name of the king, Antef, while another inscription on the necklace, added in ink probably at a later date, gives his pharaonic name, also inscribed in a cartouche: Sekhemrê Herouhermaât. 
This is therefore one of the Antef kings who reigned in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period, a troubled time that still has not been fully elucidated. In the Seventeenth Dynasty, for example, the sequence of kings has not been established with certainty, and Sekhemrê Herouhermaât's place in the order of succession is unsure. Was he the direct successor of Antef Oupmaât, whose magnificent gilded coffin, displayed alongside this one in the Louvre, was discovered at the same time? The inscriptions on this second coffin indicate that this was a "gift from his brother, King Antef." Or did he rather accede to the throne after Antef Noubkheperrê, whose beautiful coffin, also gilded, is now in the British Museum? At present, we do not know the answer to these questions.

Technical description
Couvercle du cercueil d'un roi Antef (Sékhemrê Hérouhermaât)
vers 1600 avant J.-C. (17e dynastie)
proviendrait de Dra Abou'l Naga
bois enduit et peint, yeux incrustés de pierre
H. : 1,88 m. ; L. : 0,48 m.
E 3020


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