Coffin Footboard depicting Apis bull carrying mummy

Third Intermediate PeriodLate Period

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 130

Originally the bottom of a coffin, this wooden board depicts the sacred Hapy (in Greek called the Apis) bull carrying the mummified deceased on its back. Associated with the sed-festival, at which the pharaoh was rejuvenated after 30 years of rule, the earthly incarnation of the Apis bull was housed near the Temple of Ptah at Memphis. When an Apis bull died, it was elaborately mummified and buried with great ceremony in the Serapeum, a communal tomb for these bulls at Saqqara. The new Apis was chosen by very specific markings on its hide.

A running figure of the Apis bull is often seen on the footboard of Theban cartonnages and coffins from the mid-Third Intermediate Period (around 950 B.C.) and later, with examples such as this one, with a human mummy on its back, most common in Dynasties 25 and 26 (between 750 and 525 B.C.). The bull, its royal and divine nature emphasized by the rearing cobra (uraeus) between its horns, was believed to carry the deceased either toward the west, into the tomb, or east, toward the dawn horizon. Either way, the bull was meant to escort the owner safely over the border between death and the afterlife, and thus help to ensure his or her eternal rebirth.

Coffin Footboard depicting Apis bull carrying mummy, Wood, paint, cloth, paste

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