The Egyptians believed that the next life had to be provided for in every detail and, as a result, tombs were decorated with depictions of the deceased at his funerary meal, activities of the estate and countryside, and the abundant offerings necessary to sustain the spirit.
Many surviving Egyptian works of art were created to be placed in the tombs of officials and their families. Through the ritual of “opening the mouth,” a statue of the deceased (known as a “ka statue”) was thought to become a living repository of a person’s spirit. Wall paintings, reliefs, and models depict pleasurable pastimes and occupations of daily life. Always these images have deeper meanings of magical protection, sustenance, and rebirth. The mummy was surrounded with magic spells, amulets, and representations of protective deities.
Coffin of a Middle Kingdom official
At the near end of the coffin a goddess stands, her arms raised protectively. The hieroglyphic inscriptions are magical requests for offerings and protection. Small magical amulets made of semiprecious stones or faience were placed within the linen wrappings of the mummy. Many of them were hieroglyphic signs.
For Egyptians, the cycles of human life, rebirth, and afterlife mirrored the reproductive cycles that surrounded them in the natural world. After death, the Egyptians looked forward to continuing their daily lives as an invisible spirit among their descendents on Earth in Egypt, enjoying all the pleasures of life with none of its pain or hardships. This vision is vividly depicted in the sculptures, reliefs, and wall paintings of Egyptian tombs, with the deceased portrayed in the way he or she wished to remain forever accompanied by images of family and servants. These forms of art not only reflect the Egyptians’ love of life but also by their very presence made the afterlife a reality.
This is a tomb painting from the tomb of a man named Menna.
The Egyptians believed that the pleasures of life could be made permanent through scenes like this one of Menna hunting in the Nile marshes. In this painting Menna, the largest figure, is shown twice. He is spear fishing on the right and flinging throwing sticks at birds on the left. His wife, the second-largest figure, and his daughter and son are with him. By their gestures they assist him and express their affection. The son on the left is drawing attention with a pointed finger to the two little predators (a cat and an ichneumon) that are about to steal the birds’ eggs. Pointed fingers were a magical gesture for averting evil in ancient Egypt, and the attack on the nest may well be a reminder of the vulnerability of life. Overall, scenes of life in the marshes, which were depicted in many New Kingdom tombs, also had a deeper meaning. The Nile marshes growing out of the fertile mud of the river and the abundant wildlife supported by that environment symbolized rejuvenation and eternal life.
The figures in Menna’s family are ordered within two horizontal rows, or registers, and face toward the center in nearly identical groups that fit within a triangular shape.
MUMMIES AND COFFINS
The mummy was placed in a brightly painted wooden coffin. The elaborate decoration on Nes-mut-aat-neru’s coffin fits her status as a member of the aristocracy. A central band contains symbols of rebirth flanked by panels featuring images of god and goddesses. Look for the central panel that shows the winged scarab beetle hovering protectively over the mummy (probably meant to represent the mummy of the Nes-mut-aat-neru herself).
The large white pillar painted on the back of the coffin forms a “backbone.” This provides symbolic support for the mummy and displays an inscription detailing Nes-mut-aat-neru’s ancestry
Next the mummy and coffin were placed in another wooden coffin. Like the first coffin, it is in the shape of the mummy but more simply decorated.