Stele fragment

A funerary stele carved in bas-relief in which the deceased cam be seen, perhaps accompanied by his wife, making offerings to a god, or perhaps to two of them. Below this there would have been various horizontal registers of hieroglyphics referring to the deceased, his titles and posts, as well as to the magic prayers used to please the gods. This fragment specifically shows the head in profile with the multiple Atef crown of Osiris. It is topped by a sun disk with a second, larger disk at the base over a set of curling ram’s horns. Each horn holds an upright uraeus, equally topped by a solar disk. The figure faces a column of hieroglyphics in which can be read “(…) Osiris who presides over the west”, and which indicates that the carved deity is no other than Osiris. As well as the crown described here, lower down in front of the face an elongated triangular shape can be seen: this is the point of a whip, a sceptre of the power of the pharaohs and of the gods related to these, such as Osiris.

The style of the carving, the use of yellow as the single tone to colour the scene, along with the almond-shape stylisation of the eyes, are all artistic elements characteristic of the end of the period known as the New Kingdom. Osiris was one of the gods most frequently represented in objects related to the funerary world. Images of him are common on votive stele where the owner of the object is seen making offerings and offering prayers to the god to win his favour. Most of these have appeared in funerary contexts. They could be carved directly on a wall of a tomb or hypogeum or were free-standing and were placed in temples as part of the funerary goods or as ex-votos. The iconography of this fragment brings directly to mind the splendid reliefs at the Temple of Abidos, where Osiris can be seen with the same attributes.

Originally, the figure of Osiris was linked to the fecundity of the Egyptian soil, the renewal of vegetation and the world of shepherds, as evidenced by the heka sceptre (which reproduces the shepherds’ crook). He embodied the fertile land and the arable fields, and therefore became the guardian of the order of the universe and the cycles of nature.

But the most famous myth concerning him is the one in connection with his death, known through many versions: the son of Geb (the earth) and Nut (the sky) and the husband of Isis, the god primarily was a pharaoh. With Isis, they were a pair of royal benefactors who taught mankind farming and fishing (Osiris), weaving and medicine (Isis). Jealous of the sovereign, his brother Seth assassinated him, cut up his body and disposed of the pieces in the Nile. However, Isis, his wife and faithful widow, found and reassembled the body of her husband and, with the help of her sister, Nephtys, and of Anubis, she embalmed the corpse. After breathing life into him for a short instant, Isis was impregnated by Osiris: this union resulted in the birth of Horus, who, following in the footsteps of his father, became pharaoh. And so, after having survived the ordeal of death, Osiris triumphed thanks to the magic of his wife and became the ruler of the underworld. He represented the seeds of life and, at the same time, was the protector of the deceased, to whom he would promise life after death.

These two closely related characteristics linking the god of fecundity and the funerary divinity were certainly the basis for the success Osiris enjoyed in the Egyptian world: from the New Kingdom on, and especially during the entire 1st Millennium BC, statuettes of Osiris were among the most important funerary offerings.

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