Canopic Jar (07.226.1) with a Lid in the Shape of a Royal Woman's Head (30.8.54)
New Kingdom, Amarna Period
reign of Akhenaten
ca. 1349–1336 B.C. or shortly thereafter
From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Valley of the Kings, Tomb KV 55, Davis/Ayrton excavations, 1907
Travertine (Egyptian alabaster), blue glass, obsidian, unidentified stone
Jar with lid: H. 53.2 cm (20 15/16 in.); Lid (30.8.54): H. 18.2 cm (7 3/16 in); diam. 16.6 cm (6 9/16 in); Jar only (07.226.1): H. 36.9 cm (14 1/2 in.); diam. 24 cm (9 7/16 in.)
Gift of Theodore M. Davis, 1907 (07.226.1)
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.8.54)
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 121
Although this canopic jar was intended for a funerary context, the face on the lid was carved by a master with the skill and care one might expect in a more public portrait. Whatever the age of the owner at her death, she was given a youthful countenance for the eternal afterlife. The shape of the face, with its long slender nose, sloe eyes, and sensuous mouth, identifies it as a product of the latter half of the Amarna period. The jar and lid were altered in antiquity, making it extremely difficult to identify the original owner.
The striking face carved on the jar lid represents one of the royal women of Amarna. Her hairstyle of overlapping curls, known as the Nubian wig, was worn only by adults and was popular among the female members of Akhenaten's family. The hole at the center of the forehead once secured the separately carved upper body of a rearing cobra whose tail is visible across the top of the wig. This royal protector was exclusively worn by kings and queens.
Since its discovery in 1907, the face has been variously identified as that of Queen Tiye, Akhenaten's mother; Queen Nefertiti, his principal wife; Queen Kiya, his beloved secondary wife; and Princess Merytaten, his eldest daughter. For a time, it was even identified as Akhenaten himself. This confusion is understandable, since the inscription identifying the owner was almost completely erased. Faint traces of hieroglyphs indicate that the jar was originally inscribed for Kiya, and the Nubian wig is most frequently associated with this queen. In some respects, however, the face more closely resembles later representations of Tiye, and it is possible that the lid originally belonged to her burial equipment and was later placed on Kiya's canopic jar.
The tomb in which the jar was found, KV 55 in the Valley of the Kings, is probably the most controversial of all Egyptian tombs. It contained burial equipment inscribed for Queen Tiye and magical bricks with the name of Akhenaten. There were also four canopic jars (including this one) and an inlaid wooden coffin almost certainly made for Kiya. It appears that, for safekeeping, Tutankhamun had this material transferred to Thebes from Akhenaten's tomb at Amarna, which seems to have been plundered soon after Akhenaten's death. The jars and coffin of Kiya may have been reused at that time for the burial of another member of the royal family. Other objects from this tomb in the collection include 30.8.46–.53, .55a–e. They were bequeathed to the Museum by the tomb's discoverer, Theodore M. Davis, who received them as his share of the division of finds with the Egyptian Antiquities Service.
Theodore M. Davis excavations by Ayrton, January 1907. Alloted to Davis by the Egyptian Government in the division of finds, 1907. Jar (07.226.1) given to the Museum by Davis, 1907. Lid (30.8.54) formerly Theodore M. Davis Collection, bequeathed to the Museum, 1915, and on loan from that date; accessioned 1930.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 2012. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, p. 51.