Third Intermediate Period
ca. 945–715 B.C.
From Egypt, Upper Egypt; Thebes, el-Asasif, Tomb MMA 825, MMA 1929–1930
L. 34.5 cm (13 9/16 in); w. 29 cm (11 7/16 in)
Rogers Fund, 1931
Three votive beds (31.3.108, 31.3.109 and a third in Cairo) and a small stela (31.3.110) were excavated in MMA tomb 825 at Deir el Bahri. These are very well-preserved examples of a type of object that appeared only in Thebes between the 22nd and 26th Dynasties. A number of recent studies of the type and of MMA 31.3.108 in particular have revealed much about their significance and about their many interesting implications for understanding non-temple religious practices and artistic provision for the same. The decoration of these objects includes frontal standing nude females in boats with figureheads like sacred barks, Bes figures, and particular vegetation; some other examples include a kneeling female playing a lute. The decoration carries with it significations for female fertility, conception, and birth. However, it also seems likely that votive beds are associated with the Egyptian New Year festival, and the myth of the return of the absent goddess and the flood. This is indicated, for example, by the crown worn by the female figure, which is one usually worn by Anukis, a goddess linked to the return of the flood. The origin of the particular bed-form and the use of the objects are hardly clear, but based on analysis of find spots it has been suggested that the objects are associated with the coterie of temple women around the god Amun and the God’s Wives.The museum’s votive beds belonged to a 22nd Dynasty reuse of a much earlier 11th Dynasty tomb. Reuse as a dwelling or as a tomb has been suggested, but there are points against each. Among their original equipment, many of the nearby 11th dynasty tombs had yielded so-called paddle dolls, which appear to have been associated with a troupe of dancers termed khener-women who staffed the Hathoric cult of King Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and were concerned with his rejuvenation. Despite the time difference of over a thousand years between the paddle dolls and the votive beds, it has been theorized that the spatial proximity observed here in their deposition reflects a continuity of spatial significance. Both of these types of objects carry with them strongly particularized Hathoric associations, in particular with regards to eroticism and rejuvenation. Interestingly, sound plays an important part in the function of both types of objects, despite the fact that neither is a musical instrument. The paddle doll suggests music and dancing, while the votive bed, with the female figure grasping the papyrus, suggests the pulling or rustling of papyrus. Other styles of votive beds with the female lute player suggest sound even more directly. These associations suggest that the particular area in which these objects were found, that is, the Dynasty 11 tombs in the Asasif, may have retained some continuity of meaning at least through the Third Intermediate Period. While this object poses more questions than answers, it is invaluable as a reminder of non-state Egyptian art, and the concerns addressed in popular religion.
Museum excavations, 1929-1930. Acquired by the Museum in the division of finds, 1931.
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