Funerary shroud of Tasheretwedjahor
1st or 2nd century A.D.
Height x width: 190.5 x 48.7 cm (75 x 19 3/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Tempera on linen
Egyptian Funerary Arts Gallery (Mummies) (Gallery 109)
As an alternative to a portrait mummy or cartonnage mummy mask, one might opt for a full-length painted shroud like this one inscribed for Tasherytwedjahor. Roman Egypt was a multifaceted society, and death offered many possibilities for those who could afford a wealthy burial. Personal taste, local styles, the availability of artists and materials all factored into the decision. Bald juxtapositions that seem glaring to us today existed seamlessly side by side.
Arms, shoulders, and head here are depicted naturalistically in the Greco-Roman manner. Meticulously rendered details of skin tone, hair, and bone structure suggest a keen sense of the subject’s individuality, and with it, an inevitable sense of mortality.
In contrast, the body is painted with funerary motifs rendered in the traditional Egyptian manner: highly schematic, with flat, even tones, and a combination of front and side views. In the upper register, beneath a winged scarab, the perennial mourners Isis (on the right) and Nephthys (on the left) pour libations to their brother Osiris, who stands, shrouded, in the center. Two vertical bands have not been filled in with hieroglyphic inscriptions. Rather, there are two inscriptions in Demotic script (used to write the Egyptian spoken at that time) — one by the feet of Osiris that gives the date of burial, year 4 (or 11) in the reign of an unnamed emperor; the other behind (and actually at right angles to) Nephthys, giving the name of the deceased, Tasherytwedjahor, and her husband (or father), a priest of Wepwawet, god of Asyut.
The lower register has a variation of the classic “unification of the Two Lands” motif featuring the falcon-headed god Horus and the jackal-headed god Anubis. Here, however, instead of the sedge and the papyrus of Upper and Lower Egypt, each god tugs at a lotus, and instead of the hieroglyphic sign for “unite” in the center is a tall lotus plant. As ultimate symbol of rebirth, the blossom opens up to reveal a reclining mummy, like the sun god at the dawn of creation.
At the bottom of the shroud are the subject’s sandaled feet, appearing as though dangling in air. To appreciate the scene, we must view it from the mummy’s point of view, as the decoration was done for her benefit. Upside down, standing on a lotus between the feet is a goddess. With each hand she pours a libation to a human-headed bird perched on a lotus on the outer side of each foot. Both birds represent the ba or spirit of the deceased.
1954: purchased by the MFA from Ede Collection, Cairo, through Epstein and Julius Carlebach, N. Y.
Gift of the Class of the Museum of Fine Arts, Mrs. Arthur L. Devens, Chairman