Loincloth of Maiherpra

Egyptian
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Thutmose III
1479–1425 B.C.


Findspot: Egypt, Thebes, Valley of the Kings, rock above tomb KV 36

Dimensions

Height x width: 85 x 89 cm (33 7/16 x 35 1/16 in.)

Accession Number

03.1035

Medium or Technique

Gazelle-skin

Not On View

Collections

Textiles and Fashion Arts, The Ancient World

Classifications

Costumes

Although primarily reserved for kings, the royal valley also sheltered the tombs of especially favored commoners. One of these tombs belonged to the “fanbearer on the king’s right” and “child of the inner palace,” Maiherpra. These titles indicate that he grew up in the palace and was a personal attendant of the king. Maiherpra’s tomb was discovered in 1899 with two sets of coffins, Maiherpra’s mummy, and a beautifully illustrated Book of the Dead, all now in Cairo. Three years later, another find was made in a hollow in the rock over the tomb: a small wooden box, painted yellow with hieroglyphic inscriptions in blue paint naming Maiherpra. The box contained two garments, each made of a single gazelle skin. One
of these was presented to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, from which it was later stolen. The other, along with the box, is now in Boston. A remarkable piece of work, the entire gazelle skin (except for the border and a horizontal patch of leather left plain near the top) was made into a fine mesh by cutting it with staggered rows of tiny incisions, about forty to the inch, and then pulling the skin out to expand it. The resulting garment would have been light, breezy, and flexible when worn.

This garment was the source of much hopeful speculation when it was presented to the Museum in 1903, as its function was misunderstood. Its shape reminded students of Biblical archaeology of the ephod, described in the Old Testament (Exodus 28: 6- 12) as the ceremonial vestment of the Israelite high priest, and for many years thereafter it was vaunted as the only surviving example. As an ephod, it would have been worn like an apron, just as described in the Bible. But it is unquestionably a loincloth. Leather loincloths are often depicted in New Kingdom tomb paintings, and so we know how they were worn.

The top would have been tied around the waist with the patch covering the buttocks, the rounded lower portion pulled up between the legs and tied in front. Most often such loincloths are associated with soldiers and Nubians. Therefore it should come as no surprise that Maiherpra himself was both a soldier and a Nubian: his name means “lion on the battlefield.”

Provenance

From Thebes, Valley of the Kings. 1902: Theodore M. Davis excavations in the Valley of the Kings, found with a second loincloth in a small wooden box (MFA 03.1036a-b) in the hollow of a rock over tomb KV 36 (Maiherpra) by Howard Carter; 1903: given to the MFA by Theodore M. Davis.
(Accession Date: May 6, 1903)

Credit Line

Gift of Theodore M. Davis