West wall of the chapel of Nikauhor and Sekhemhathor
reign of Userkaf–Niuserre
ca. 2465–2389 B.C.
From Egypt, Memphite Region, Saqqara, Cemetery north of Djoser complex, Tomb QS 915, west wall
Rogers Fund, 1908
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103
Nikauhor was a judge and a priest of Userkaf's sun temple and mortuary cult. His wife, Sekhemhathor, was a priestess of Hathor and Neith. The false door niche on the left, flanked by figures of Nikauhor, belongs to him; that on the right, flanked by figures of the couple, belongs to his wife. Nikauhor's offering stela is missing, and that of Sekhemhathor-which originally was placed above her false door-has been displaced to the left because of the height of the wall.
Nikauhor's single figures in particular are very finely carved; his mature, austere features are characteristic of Fifth Dynasty style as opposed to that of the Fourth. The relief flanking his wife's false door is flatter and less modeled.
The intervening expanse of wall shows, from the bottom, a painted dado, the slaughter of cattle, the presentation of offerings, and a game of senet being played alongside a group of musicians. Such scenes sometimes have recognizably allegorical meanings: the passage through the afterworld was, for instance, likened to a game of senet. White outlines among and over the figures of the uppermost preserved register are traces of chair legs and the leg of a large seated figure, which belonged to an erased scene.
The mastaba of Nikauhor, like those of Raemkai and Perneb, was located in a cemetery north of the Djoser complex.
The mastaba of Nikauhor belongs to the group of mastabas outside the northern enclosure wall of the Djoser complex, which was excavated in 1907/08 by Quibell. He writes: "The west wall has been sold to the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The three other walls, which must suffer a good deal each time they are exposed to the air, were copied before they were again filled." Quibell published modest line drawings of this wall decoration (pl. 62-66).
The exact location of the mastaba has not beem established. However, one can conclude from Quibell’s numbering system that S 915 followed the Shepsesre mastaba (see 13.183.3, the Tomb of Perneb) somewhere to the east.
Nikauhor was a judge and a priest of Userkaf's sun temple and the royal mortuary cult in the nearby king’s pyramid. His wife, Sekhemhathor, was a priestess of Hathor and Neith. Nikauhor may have been a contemporary of Userkaf but a date down to Niuserre or even later has been suggested.
No documentation of the tomb exists but it seems to have consisted of a north-south oriented chapel with two false doors in the long wall of the west side. According to the MMA plan the chapel was 5.15 m long and 1.12 m wide. This plan is not an excavation plan but was reconstructed in the Museum. The entrance to the chapel was from the east. The west wall was of good quality limestone and decorated with fine relief. The other three walls were of local, "marly" limestone. One can assume that the mastaba core consisted of brick and that only the chapel was cased with limestone.
The chapel west wall in the Metropolitan Museum has two recessed false doors, which create 5 sections. The false door niche on the left, flanked by figures of Nikauhor, belongs to the tomb owner; the false door on the right, flanked by figures of the couple, belongs to his wife.
Originally, as typical in tomb decoration, an offering slab above each false door. Nikauhor's offering slab is missing. That of Sekhemhathor, which was originally placed above her false door, has been displaced to the left in the Museum’s display because of the height of the wall. The first display in the Museum included a reconstructed door drum above the left false door.
The wall space between the false doors is decorated with three registers of activities. The top register includes the playing of the senet-game, and musicians singing and playing the harp and the flute. A procession of offering bearers marches in the middle register and butchers slaughter cattle in the lower register.
The two spaces at the ends of the wall show three registers with offering bearers.
White outlines among and over the figures of the uppermost preserved register include traces of chair legs and the leg of a large seated figure, which belonged to an erased scene.
Dieter Arnold, 2015
Purchased from the Egyptian Government, 1908.
Lythgoe, Albert M. 1908. "Recent Egyptian Acquisitions." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 12 (December), pp. 217, fig. 1; p. 221, fig. 3; p. 223.
Quibell, James E. 1909. Excavations at Saqqara 1907-1908, 3. Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, pl. 66.
Baer, Klaus 1960. Rank and Title in the Old Kingdom. University of Chicago Press, p. 89, no. 245.
Russmann, Edna R. 1983. Egyptian Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 6 no. 5.
Cherpion, Nadine 1989. Mastabas et Hypogées d'Ancien Empire: la Problème de la Datation. Brussels: Connaissance de l'Egypte ancienne, pp. 47, 51, 70.