Beadnet dress

When the female rowers of the king's boat tossed away their regular clothing and slipped on bead-net dresses instead, "the heart of His Majesty was happy at the sight of their rowing," according to an ancient author. The tale is about magic performed by one of the priests of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid and the king under whom the owner of this dress probably lived. The woman's occupation is not known because she was found in an uninscribed coffin. Nothing remained inside except bones, a few scraps of linen, a headrest, and approximately seven thousand beads.

Because of meticulous note taking and photography at the time of their discovery, the original position of the beads was recovered, and some of the original stringing preserved. With clues provided by relief representations, the shape of the bodice and the floral-pendant fringes at the bottom could be reconstructed. These fringes would have jingled seductively as the wearer walked. The faience's vivid dark blue, light blue, and green hues have faded, but a hint of their original brilliance may still be seen. Although only the front part of the dress has been restrung, sufficient beads were found to indicate that the dress would have covered the back of the mummy as well. It is the earliest known bead-net dress, and one of very few from the Old Kingdom. Prior to its reconstruction, this type of dress was known only from representations painted on relief or statuary.

Depictions of women in Egyptian art occasionally feature garments decorated with an overall lozenge pattern. This design is believed to represent beadwork, which was either sewn onto a linen dress or worked into a separate net worn over the linen. This beadnet dress is the earliest surviving example of such a garment. It has been painstakingly reassembled from approximately seven thousand beads found in an undisturbed burial of a female contemporary of King Khufu. Although their string had disintegrated, a few beads still lay in their original pattern on and around the mummy, permitting an accurate reconstruction. The color of the beads has faded, but the beadnet was originally blue and blue green in imitation of lapis lazuli and turquoise.

Provenance

From Giza, tomb G 7440 Z. 1927: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1927: assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt.

(Accession Date: May 27, 1987)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition

Beadnet dress

  • Egyptian, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Khufu, 2551–2528 B.C.
Findspot
Giza, Egypt
Dimensions
Overall: 44 x 113cm (17 5/16 x 44 1/2in.) Mount: 139.7 x 31.8 x 17.8 cm (55 x 12 1/2 x 7 in.)
Medium or Technique
Faience
Classification
Costumes
Accession Number
27.1548.1
On view
Egypt: Old Kingdom Funerary Arts Gallery - 105B

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