Egyptian; From KV55, Valley of the Kings, western Thebes
Egyptian alabaster with glass and stone inlays
H. 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.8.54)
Canopic jars were used to store the four internal organs that were removed during mummification. Although intended for a funerary context, the face on this canopic jar lid was carved by a master with the skill and care one might expect in a more public portrait. Whatever the owner's age 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 Akhenaten's reign. Both the lid and its jar were altered in antiquity, making it extremely difficult to identify the original owner, but the striking face must represent 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 held a uraeus, the divine cobra worn exclusively by royalty.
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 on the accompanying jar that would have identified the owner has been 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.