Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Relief depicting rituals and sacred emblems

Middle Kingdom
Dynasty 11
reign of Mentuhotep II, early
ca. 2051–2030 B.C.
From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, Tomb of Neferu (TT 319, MMA 31), MMA excavations, 1923–25
Limestone, paint
26.3.353a: H. 67.5 x W. 102 cm (26 9/16 x 40 3/16 in.) 26.3.353b: H. 53.5 x W. 88.5 cm (21 1/16 x 34 13/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1926
Accession Number:
26.3.353a, b-related
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 104
Neferu was most likely the first queen of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, and may also have been his sister. Her plundered tomb, excavated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1923 and 1931, lay outside the king's temple precinct at Deir el Bahri. It was visited as a shrine in the Eighteenth Dynasty, and at some point it was used as a quarry for the fine limestone covering the walls.

The decoration of the funerary apartments consisted almost exclusively of ritual scenes and depictions of sacred objects deriving from local Upper Egyptian iconography. The carving of Neferu’s surviving reliefs has a captivating otherworldliness, although it is varied in quality. The extenuated proportions of the figures, and the elaborate patterns contrasting with smooth planes, represent the height of the Eleventh Dynasty archaic style. The background was left unpainted, while the figures were either detailed or covered with orange, pink, purple, blue, green, white or black paint.

This goal of the scenes illustrated in this group of fragments was to provide a liturgical listing of items that were essential in the proper procedure of funeral rites, rather than to depict actual ritual performances. This accounts for the striking lack of proportion between objects and human figures in these scenes
The following stages in the funeral rites are alluded to by the presence of sacred objects:

1. The body of the deceased is prepared.
In the top register on the left, four tiny men carry a rectangular object that looks like a canopy but is actually a bracelet (or anklet) that is to be put on the mummy.

2. Entry into the underworld.
Immediately to the right of the bracelet carriers, a kneeling man lifts up a funerary boat. Boats were thought to be the means by which the deceased entered the realm of the dead.

3. The deceased is endowed with supernatural powers.
In the middle register, two kneeling men present scepters, possibly to endow the deceased with divine power.

4. The deceased is purified.
Only the top of the lowest register is preserved. According to parallels (see gallery 107), at right we are seeing the cone-shaped lid of a jar around which flowers have been wrapped, followed by the top of a flail and a mythical double bull. The combination appears to be connected to rites of purification.

5. The deceased follows the journey of the sun from dusk to dawn,
from death to resurrection.

The double bull is a symbol for the setting and rising sun, and the journey through the deep that the sun undergoes between the two points.

For other reliefs from the tomb of Neferu, see 31.3.1 and 26.3.353*.
Museum excavations, 1923-1925. Acquired by the Museum in the division of finds.

Hayes, William C. 1953. Scepter of Egypt I: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part I: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 159, Fig. 95.

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