Continuing on from previous blog posts presenting the displays in the House of Life gallery, this week’s entry with focus on the Domestic Piety case. As with the previous cases, this display was created in 1998 for the opening of the Egypt Centre and has remained largely the same ever since. In total, there are seventeen objects on display, including three on long-term loan since 2005 from the British Museum. The idea behind the case is that, as the name suggests, the objects relate to personal piety or religion in the home. While evidence of personal piety existed before the New Kingdom, it is from this period onwards that we see a greater prevalence (Luiselli 2008; 2014). This is particularly the case within the community of workmen at Deir el-Medina, where a few of the objects in this case originate from. This blog post will present some of the objects on display in this case (fig. 1).
|Fig. 1: The domestic piety case|
One of the objects from Deir el-Medina is a limestone ostracon (W1327). The object was previously part of the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell, which was purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1906. It can be traced back to lot 75, which is described in the auction catalogue as consisting of “three stelae and various fragments”. On the front of the ostracon there is decoration in red ink, which includes a cow in the upper half and four figures in the lower half (fig. 2). While the decoration is somewhat difficult to see, it becomes much clearer when running the image through DStretch (fig. 3). The cow has a sun disc between her horns, which clearly identify her as the goddess Hathor. Hathor is a goddess who is well-known from Deir el-Medina, including within the home. She was associated with music, dance, joy, love, sexuality, and maternal care. The provenance of the item is known from the writing on the reverse of the ostracon, which is commonly found on objects originating from the collection of Rustafjaell. Also on the reverse is a rectangular serrated sticker with the printed number 21. This was added by the Assyriologist William St. Chad Boscawen (1854–1913), who was tasked with cataloguing Wellcome’s Egyptian collection from 1906 until his death in 1913. His catalogue entry for the ostracon describes it as a “sandstone (sic) ostraca with artists design. A cow & male figures in red outline”.
|Fig. 2: Ostracon from Deir el-Medina|
|Fig. 3: DStretch of ostracon|
Also from Deir el-Medina is fragment of a Bes vessel (W1702), which was also purchased in 1906 from the Rustafjaell collection (fig. 4). As with the previous object, the writing on the back of the fragment provides the provenance. The face of Bes is created using four shallow horizontal lines for the forehead, with his eyebrows and eyelids formed by arches: five arches on the left and two on the right. The eyes are concave oval shapes, with smaller ovals inside to form the pupils. The nose is triangular, connected to a downcurved arch; the triangle and arch protrude from the surface. The tongue is sticking out under the nose. Fragments of the outline of the face are preserved, created by a thick line, and on the top right an ear is preserved. The ear is a semi-circle attached to the face outline. Such vessels probably contained wine or milk and date to the New Kingdom. Bes was a household protector, becoming responsible for such varied tasks as killing snakes, fighting off evil spirits, watching after children, and aiding women in labour by fighting off evil spirits (Bagh & Manniche 2021).
Two other Bes vessels are on display in the case, both of which are complete. W1283 is a small ellipsoid jar made from a fine Marl clay (fig. 5). It is a wheel-made vessel with a ring base and a collar around the transition from the shoulder and the neck. The vessel’s rim has been broken and now has an uneven jagged rim. The vessel has a stylised depiction of the god Bes made of applied decoration that has been carefully sculpted. This example dates to the Ptolemaic Period and comes from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor, which was sold at auction in 1922. This vessel was affectionally referred to by Kate Bosse-Griffiths as the “humpty dumpty” pot because of its striking resemblance to the character. EC546 likely dates to the Late Period also has an extremely stylised image of the god Bes, with just the eyes applied as decoration.
|Fig. 5: Bes vessel|
Two further objects in the case feature the popular Bes. British Museum EA2569 is a wooden cosmetic container in the form of a standing figure of the god Bes, shown with leonine features, wearing a wig and short kilt (fig. 6). His arms are slightly bent at the elbow, with hands resting on his thighs. There is a cylindrical hollow drilled down from the top of the head to contain cosmetics. The vessel would have been covered by a lid, which is now missing. A small hole is present where the attachment of the lid once fitted. It was dated by Gay Robins to the period between the reign of Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun (Robins 1995, 22). This object has been on long-term loan at the Egypt Centre since 2005 from the British Museum who acquired it from the collection of Henry Salt in 1821. The other item is a fragment of blue faience showing part of the face of Bes (EC257). This is possibly part of a faience vessel dating to the Late Period.
|Fig. 6: Cosmetic vessel of Bes|
Just like the Bes vessels discussed previously, Hathor vases were also common. W1284a is part of a pottery vessel showing a cow’s head to represent the goddess Hathor (fig. 7). Such vessels seem to have been used from the Middle Kingdom to contain wine or milk. Festivals of Hathor often contained an element of drunkenness but on many temple estates cows were kept to produce sacred milk. This object was also purchased by Wellcome in 1906 from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell. W5364 is a small bag-shaped jar that has been wheel-made. There is an incised line that has applied decoration attached, just beneath the rolled rim (outside), which depicts the horns of a cow and sun disc linking it to the goddess Hathor.
|Fig. 7: Hathor vessel|
AB129 is an object that I have a close fondness for since it was the subject of my first ever article, which was written to mark the occasion of Professor Alan Lloyd’s retirement at Swansea University (Griffin 2007). This limestone fragment is part of an ꜣḫ i͗ḳr n Rꜥ stela (fig. 8). On the left, the dedicatee is seated on a high-backed chair wearing a wig with fillet and a wesekh-collar. He has a short beard and wears a short wig with a fillet band tied around it. The curved end of the top of the chair can be seen just above the collar. In his left hand he holds a lotus-flower, which sinuously curls away from his body with its blossom looping back towards his face, giving the impression that he is sniffing its pleasing fragrance. In his right hand he appears to be holding a bouquet of flowers, the remains of which can be seen just in front of him. Traces of brown and white paint on the surface. In the lunette above the scene is an inscription, written over several vertical lines. The text, which is incomplete, can be tentatively reconstructed based on other examples of this type. It concludes with the name of the dedicatee, which to date remains elusive. Ancestor stelae were common during the Ramesside Period. While most often found at Deir el-Medina, this fragment appears to have come from Abydos. It was gifted to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth by John Bancroft Willans, a subscriber of the Egypt Exploration Fund/Society, who received the object in 1903. It was subsequently gifted to the Egypt Centre in 1997.
|Fig. 8: Ancestor stela|
All the objects in the Domestic Piety case, including those not discussed in this blog, can be viewed here.
Bagh, Tine and Lise Manniche (eds) 2021. Bes: demon god, protector of Egypt. Contributions by Jørgen Podemann Sørensen, Lise Manniche, Christian E. Loeben, Olaf E. Kaper, Pavel Onderka. [Kopenhagen]: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
Demarée, R. J. 1983. The ꜣḫ i͗ḳr n Rꜥ-stelae: on ancestor worship in ancient Egypt. Egyptologische Uitgaven 3. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten.
Griffin, K. 2007. An ꜣḫ ı͗ḳr n Rꜥ stela from the collection of the Egypt Centre, Swansea. In Schneider, Thomas and Kasia Szpakowska (eds), Egyptian stories: a British Egyptological tribute to Alan B. Lloyd on the occasion of his retirement, 137–147. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.
Luiselli, Maria Michela 2014. Personal piety in ancient Egypt. Religion Compass 8 (4), 105–116.
Luiselli, Michela 2008. Personal piety (modern theories related to). Edited by Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008 (July).
Robins, Gay 1995. Reflections of women in the New Kingdom. Ancient Egyptian art from The British Museum, 4 February–14 May 1995. Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University.