Relief with figure making votive offering

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A fragment of a wall relief from a sanctuary in a tomb, specifically a mastaba. This tomb was for a private individual from Egyptian society in the Old Kingdom.

It is made up of a horizontal register of hieroglyphics of which only three quarters of the total height of the register can be seen. This makes the translation of the text difficult. A man, who could well be the owner of the tomb, has been carved below this. He is shown in the position typical of Egyptian art with the face in profile looking to the right, and with the torso as if seen directly from the front. The delicate carving of the facial details is of particular note. Over the man’s chest we can make out the form of a “usekh”, a broad collar or necklace, made up of two flat semi-circular pieces in the form of a half-moon. The pieces of the usekh were usually made up of multiple coloured beads - of faience, hard stone or precious metals - with a counterweight at the clasp at the back of the neck to keep the heavy collar in place.

The chiselling shows the man’s right arm down at his side while the left crosses in front of his chest. This is raised forward so that his hand is at the level of his head. In his open palm he holds a conical vessel, as if he is making an offering. A flame coming from the vessel indicates that he is burning incense.

The Egyptians believed in the afterlife and thought that it was necessary to preserve the bodies of the deceased for this second life. They converted the corpses into mummies. To do this they dried the bodies and bandaged them, and afterwards kept them in sarcophagi placed in tombs. Around them was placed everything that was thought to be necessary for the deceased in the other world: clothing, food, jewellery, etc.

The largest tombs were those of the pharaohs such as, for example, the pyramids or the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. In the Old Kingdom, mastabas made their appearance, made up of two elements: a superstructure of a rectangular shape with inclined walls and with different chambers and chapels for veneration and for storing provisions, and a substructure, the real funeral chamber, access to which was through a vertical shaft that later was covered over to hide the entrance and thus prevent sacking. This sort of tomb evolved over time in the following dynasties to become a more discrete structure, making it even harder for thieves to enter. Hypogea appear: tombs carved out inside a mountain. There were hidden ones and others that had entrances so that acts of worship could be carried out and offerings left for the deceased owners.

Both in the mastabas and the hypogea the walls were painted or carved with different scenes illustrating the life of the deceased. Some included written accounts of their life, scenes of daily life, with the owner in activities like fishing or hunting or holding feasts. In the chapel where there was a table for offerings and which was the place for direct communication with the dead, there was always a larger image of the latter accompanied by an entourage carrying offerings, either of foodstuffs or objects for everyday use. The Egyptians believed that everything that could be represented in an image could come to life, and thus if the descendants did not come to visit there always remained the provisions depicted in the reliefs.

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