A History of Art in Ancient Egypt Volume II Part 35


A History of Art in Ancient Egypt

A History of Art in Ancient Egypt Volume II Part 35

The evidence which gradually acc.u.mulated in the hands of M. Maspero, all pointed to two brothers Abd-er-Rasoul, as the possessors of the secret. These men had established their homes in some deserted tombs in the western cliff, at the back of the Ramesseum, and had long combined the overt occupation of guiding European travellers and providing them with donkeys, with the covert and more profitable profession of tomb-breakers and mummy-s.n.a.t.c.hers.[405] M. Maspero caused the younger of these brothers, Ahmed Abd-er-Rasoul, to be arrested and taken before the Mudir at Keneh. Here every expedient known to Egyptian justice was employed to open his lips, but all in vain. His reiterated examinations only served to prove, if proof had been needed, how thoroughly the Arabs of Thebes sympathized with the conduct of which he was accused. Testimony to his complete honesty and many other virtues poured in from all sides; his dismal dwelling-place was searched without result, and finally he was released on bail. No sooner had Ahmed returned home, however, than quarrels and recriminations arose between him and his elder brother Mohammed. These quarrels and the offer of a considerable reward by the Egyptian authorities at last induced Mohammed to betray the family secret, in this instance, a material skeleton in the cupboard. He went quietly to Keneh and told how Ahmed and himself had found a tomb in one of the wildest bays of the western chain in which some forty coffined mummies, mostly with the golden asp of royalty upon their brows, were heaped one upon another amid the remains of their funerary equipments.

This story was taken for what it seemed to be worth, but on being telegraphed to Cairo, it brought Herr Emil Brugsch and another member of the Boulak staff to Thebes in hot haste. They were conducted by Mohammed Abd-er-Rasoul up the narrow valley which lies between the Sheikh-abd-el-Gournah, on the south, and the spur forming the southern boundary of the valley of Dayr-el-Bahari, on the north, to a point some seventy yards above the outer limits of the cultivated land.

There, in a corner, bare and desolate even in that desolate region, they were led behind a heap of boulders to the edge of a square hole in the rocky soil, and told that down there was the treasure for which they sought. Ropes were at hand, and Emil Brugsch was lowered into the pit with his companion. The depth was not great, some thirty-six feet, and as soon as their eyes became accustomed to the feeble light of their tapers, they saw that a corridor led away from it to the west.

This they followed, and after a few yards found it turn sharply to the right, or north. The funeral canopy of Queen Isi-em-Kheb, which we shall presently describe, was found in the angle thus made. The explorers advanced along this corridor for more than seventy yards, stumbling at every step over the _debris_ of mummy cases and funerary furniture, and pa.s.sing on their right and left, first up piled boxes of statuettes, bronze and terra-cotta jars, alabaster canopic vases, and other small articles, and then some twenty mummies, a few in nests of two or three outer cases, others in but a single coffin, and at least three without other covering than their bandages and shrouds.

Finally they arrived at a mortuary chamber about twenty-four feet long and fourteen broad, in which some eighteen more huge mummy cases were piled one upon another, reaching almost to the roof. The distance of this chamber from the outer air was rather more than 280 feet, and its walls, like those of the corridor which led to it, were without decoration of any kind.

[405] See Miss A. B. EDWARD'S account of these gentlemen in _Harper's Magazine_ for July, 1882. Her paper is ill.u.s.trated with woodcuts after some of the more interesting objects found, and a plan of the _locale_.

The European explorers felt like men in a dream. They had come expecting to find the coffins and mummies of one or two obscure kinglets of the Her-Hor family, and here was the great Sesostris himself, and his father Seti, the conquering Thothmes III., "who drew his frontiers where he pleased," and, like other great soldiers since his day, seems to have been little more than a dwarf in stature, together with several more Pharaohs of the two great Theban dynasties.

The coffins of these famous monarchs were in the corridor, some standing upright, others lying down, while the chamber was occupied by the mummies of the twenty-first dynasty, such as those of Queen Notemit, Pinotem I., Pinotem II., Queens Makara and Isi-em-Kheb, and Princess Nasikhonsou. Isi-em-Kheb seemed to have been the last comer to the tomb, as her mummy was accompanied by a complete sepulchral outfit of wigs, toilet bottles and other things of the kind, besides the canopy already mentioned and a complete funerary repast in a hamper.

Preparations were immediately commenced for the removal of the whole "find" to Boulak. Steamers were sent for from Cairo, and several hundred Arabs were employed in clearing the tomb and transporting its contents to Luxor for embarkation. Working with extreme energy, they accomplished their task in five days, and in four days more the steamers had arrived, had taken their remarkable cargo on board, and had started for the capital. And then apparently the native population became alive to the fact that these mummied Pharaohs were their own ancestors, that they had given to their country the only glory it had ever enjoyed, and that they were being carried away from the tombs in which they had rested peacefully, while so many Empires had come and gone, while the world had grown from youth to old age. For many miles down the river the people of the villages turned out and paid the last honours to Thothmes, Seti, Rameses, and the rest of the company. Long lines of men fired their guns upwards as the convoy pa.s.sed, while dishevelled women ran along the banks and filled the vibrating air with their cries. Thus after more than three thousand years of repose in the bosom of their native earth, the Theban Pharaohs were again brought into the light, to go through a third act in the drama of their existence. This act may perhaps be no longer than the first, as their new home at Boulak has already been in danger of destruction; it is sure to be far shorter than the second, for long before another thirty centuries have pa.s.sed over their mummied heads, time will have done its work both with them and with the civilization which has degraded them into museum curiosities.

The appearance of this burial place, or _cachette_ as Maspero calls it, the nature of the things found in it and of those which should have been found there but were not, prove that its existence had been known to the Arabs and fellaheen of the neighbourhood for many years.

Miss Edwards believes that the mummy of Queen Aah-hotep, which was found in the sand behind the temple of Dayr-el-Bahari in 1859, came out of the Her-Hor vault. The contrast between the magnificence of that mummy, the beauty of its jewels, and the care which had evidently been expended upon it on the one hand, and the rough and ready hiding-place in which it was found, on the other,[406] was so great that it was difficult to believe that it had never had a more elaborate tomb; and now the discovery of the outer coffin of the same queen in the pit at Dayr-el-Bahari, goes far to complete the proof that Aah-hotep was disposed of after death like other members of her race, and that the exquisite jewels which were found upon her, were but a part of treasures which had been dispersed over the world by the modern spoilers.[407] The tomb contained about six thousand objects in all, of which but a few have as yet been completely described. Among those few, however, there are one or two which add to our knowledge of Egyptian decoration.

[406] See page 29, Vol. I.

[407] For a description of these jewels by Dr. BIRCH, and reproductions of them in their actual colours, see _Facsimile of the Egyptian Relics Discovered in the Tomb of Queen Aah-hotep_.

London: 1863, 4to. See also above, page 380, footnote 387, of the present volume.

Not the least important are the mummy cases of the Queens Aah-hotep and Nefert-ari. Originally these were identical in design, but one is now considerably more damaged than the other. The general form is similar to that of an Osiride pier, the lower part being terminal and the upper shaped like the bust, arms, and head of a woman. The mask is encircled with a plaited wig, above which appear two tall plumes, indicating that their wearer has been justified before Osiris, while the shoulders and arms are enveloped in a kind of net. The whole case is of _cartonnage_, and the net-like appearance is given by glueing down several layers of linen, which have been so entirely covered with hexagonal perforations as to be reduced to the condition of a net, over the smooth surface beneath. The interior of each hexagon has then been painted blue, so that in the end we have a yellow network over a blue ground. Both colours are of extreme brilliancy. The plaiting of the wig and the separate filaments of the plumes are indicated in the same way as the network. These mummy cases are, so far as we can discover, different from any previously found.

The funerary canopy of Queen Isi-em-Kheb is also a thing by itself.

Its purpose was to cover the pavilion or deck-house under which the Queen's body rested in its pa.s.sage across the Nile. It is a piece of leather patchwork. When laid flat upon the ground it forms a Greek cross, 22 feet 6 inches in one direction, and 19 feet 6 inches in the other. The central panel, which is 9 feet long by 6 wide,[408] covered the roof of the pavilion, while the flaps forming the arms of the cross hung down perpendicularly upon the sides.[409] Many thousand pieces of gazelle hide have been used in the work.

[408] These measurements are taken from _The Funeral Canopy of an Egyptian Queen_, by the Hon. H. VILLIERS STUART: Murray, 1882. 8vo.

[409] Mr. VILLIERS STUART gives a facsimile in colour of the canopy, and a fanciful ill.u.s.tration of it in place, upon a boat copied from one in the _Tombs of the Queens_.

The central panel has an ultramarine ground. It is divided longitudinally into two equal parts, one half being sprinkled with red and yellow stars, and the other covered with alternate bands of vultures, hieroglyphs, and stars. The "fore and aft" flaps of the canopy are entirely covered with a chess-board pattern of alternate red and green squares, while the lateral flaps have each, in addition, six bands of ornament above the squares, the most important band consisting of ovals of Pinotem, supported by uraei and alternating with winged scarabs, papyrus heads, and crouching gazelles. The colours employed are a red or pink, like a pale shade of what is now called Indian red, a golden yellow, a pale yellow not greatly differing from ivory, green, and pale ultramarine. The latter colour is used only for the ground of the central panel, where it may fitly suggest the vault of heaven; the rest are distributed skilfully and harmoniously, but without the observance of any particular rule, over the rest of the decoration. The immediate contrasts are red (or pink) with dark gra.s.s-green, bright yellow with buff or ivory colour, and green with yellow. The bad effect of the juxtaposition of buff with red was understood, and that contrast only occurs in the hieroglyphs within the ovals.

The arrangement of the ornamental motives is characterized by that Egyptian hatred for symmetry which is so often noticed by M. Perrot, but the general result is well calculated to have a proper effect under an Egyptian sun. The leather, where uninjured, still retains the softness and l.u.s.tre of kid.

The Osiride mummy case of Rameses II. is of unpainted wood, and in the style of the twenty-first dynasty. It has been thought that the features resemble those of Her Hor himself,[410] and therefore that it was carved in his reign; they certainly are not those of Rameses, and yet the iconic nature of the head is very strongly marked.

[410] Miss A. B. EDWARDS, _Lying in State in Cairo_, in _Harper's Magazine_ for July, 1882.

Besides these important objects, the vault contained, as we have said, an immense number of small articles, no description of which has yet been published.

An explanation of the presence of all these mummies and their belongings in a single unpretentious vault, is not far to seek. In the reign of Rameses IX., of the twentieth dynasty, it was discovered that many tombs, including those of the Pharaoh Sevek-em-Saf and his queen Noubkhas had been forced and rifled by robbers, while others had been more or less damaged. An inquiry was held and some at least of the delinquents brought to justice. The "Abbott" and the "Amherst" papyri give accounts of the proceedings in full, together with the confession of one of the criminals.[411] These occurrences and the generally lawless condition of Thebes at the time seem to have led to the inst.i.tution of periodical inspections of the royal tombs, and of the mummies which they contained. Minutes of these inspections, signed by the officer appointed to carry them out and two witnesses besides, are inscribed upon the shrouds and cases of the mummies. At first the inspectors shifted the deceased kings from tomb to tomb, the "house"

of Seti I. being the favourite, apparently from its supposed security, but as the power of the monarchy declined, as disorders became more frequent and discipline more difficult to preserve, it appears to have been at last determined to subst.i.tute, as the burial-place of the royal line, a single, unornamented, easily concealed and guarded hole for the series of subterranean palaces which had shown themselves so unable to shield their occupants from insult and destruction.

[411] See MASPERO, _Une Enquete Judiciare a Thebes_, Paris, 1871, 4to.

The Her-Hor family therefore were buried in one vault, and such of their great predecessors as had escaped the ghouls of the Western, Valley were gathered to their sides.

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