Coffin Set of the Singer of Amun-Re, Henettawy (F)

Period: Third Intermediate Period

Dynasty: late Dynasty 21

Date: ca. 1000–945 B.C.

Geography: From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, Tomb of Henettawy F (MMA 59), MMA excavations, 1923–24

Medium: Wood, gesso, paint, varnish

Dimensions: Outer coffin: L. 203 cm (79 15/16 in.); Inner coffin: L. 191 cm (75 3/16 in.); Mummy board: L. 171.3 cm (67 7/16 in.)

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1925

Accession Number: 25.3.182–.184-related


The "mistress of the house and chantress of Amun-Re," Henettawy died, still in her twenties, during a time of political change (the so-called Third Intermediate Period). This was a period when the art of coffin decoration was at its height. Such decoration was especially important at the time because no images enriched the simple underground chambers in which even high-status people were buried—often whole families together.

Besides her rather simple personal jewelry, Henettawy's main burial equipment consisted of two splendid coffins and an innermost mummy lid, fitting one into the other like parts of a Russian doll. Both coffins and the innermost lid are shaped like wrapped mummies with elaborate masks fastened over the heads. The decoration of the lids reflects royal coffins of an earlier age, which had gold masks and gold arm covers, mummy covers of precious materials such as gold inlaid with glass and semiprecious stones, snow-white and re-dyed cloth, and faience bead netting. The heads and upper bodies on Henettawy's coffins are enriched with wigs adorned with floral fillets, immense floral broad collars with Horus-head terminals, bracelets, armlets, rings, and rosette ear ornaments. Richly colored emblems are depicted as if fastened to the cloth wrappings just below the breasts; two wedjat eyes are seen on the outer coffin and winged scarabs appear on the second and innermost lids. Nut, the sky goddess, spreads her protective wings across the waist of the mummy images, and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys mourn the death of Henettawy and protect her feet on the two outer coffin lids.

The mummy represented on the outer coffin lid (left) wears an elaborate pectoral in the shape of a small shrine within which are two winged wedjat eyes, with uraeus images holding ankhs, and Horus falcons flanking a central scarab that pushes a sun disk upward, an image of the rising sun and of rebirth. The composition is similar to the Middle Kingdom pectoral of Sit-Hathor-yunet (16.1.3). At the sides of this pectoral are figures of Anubis as a jackal wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt and holding empowering scepters. Beneath the protective wings of Nut, vertical and horizontal yellow bands (again representing gold) cover the white mummy wrapping. On the center band, hieroglyphs read: "Recitation by the Osiris, housemistress and chantress of Amun-Re, king of the gods, Henettawy, justified, who says: 'O my mother Nut! Spread your wings over my face and cause me to be like the imperishable stars, like the unwearying stars, without dying a second time in necropolis!'" In the rectangular spaces between the bands, Henettawy in a rich golden garment shakes a sistrum and prays to Osiris (the two uppermost scenes), the four sons of Horus stand behind altars with offerings (middle scenes), and Anubis, god of the cemetery and mummification, holds empowering scepters in the bottom scenes.

The second coffin lid (center) is painted yellow all over, imitating royal coffins made of solid gold or gilded wood, like the famous coffins of Tutankhamun. The colorful hieroglyphs and figures would have been precious inlays. The pectoral is only slightly less elaborate than the one on the outer lid. Its main feature is again a large scarab that pushes a sun disk upward to symbolize the rising sun. On each side are enthroned figures of Osiris holding the crook and flail and wearing tall headdresses with ostrich-feather plumes (note his green flesh, symbolizing vegetation, which goes through a cycle of death followed by new growth, and thus represents the rebirth into life after death). Osiris is flanked by two winged goddesses, his sisters Isis and Nephthys, who raise one hand in adoration and sound their sistrums. In front of them are tiny ba spirits of Henettawy.

On the central vertical band, beneath Nut with her outspread wings, are (from top to bottom) a shrine with two crouching figures of Osiris flanking a scarab, Isis and Nephthys adoring the symbol of Osiris, a scepter flanked by winged wedjat eyes, and a winged scarab above the boat of the sun. Note the recurrent representations of reed mats (shown as horizontal bars with vertical subdivisions), upon which high-status people sat and on which offerings were presented; protective cobras with sun-disk headdresses; floral designs; and the hieroglyphs for "stability" and "perfect." On each side of the central band are five pairs of shrines whose roofs are adorned with protective cobras. Pillars in the shape of the hieroglyph djet, for stability, support the roofs. In each shrine, the image of a deity faces outward, where, at the edge of the coffin lid, Henettawy is seen shaking a sistrum, her hands raised in adoration. The deities she prays to are, from top to bottom, the solar gods Re and Re-Harakhty, the creator god Khnum (in the shape of a ram), the four sons of Horus (in charge of the deceased's organs), and Anubis, who sits in a much lower shrine and is adored by Henettawy's ba.

The innermost coffin lid (right) has no pectoral on a necklace. There are, however, two emblems of the scarab that pushes the sun disk, the lower one flanked by two Re-Harakhty falcons that face winged cobras. The lower half of the lid is painted red, indicating a red-dyed cloth wrapping. Over the cloth is a bead netting in diamond patterns, symbolizing the garment of a goddess, and a single vertical yellow (gold) band on which is written a spell that Osiris utters on behalf of Henettawy.