Queen Nefertari’s Egypt » Women In Egypt

Women In Egypt

Life in the Harem The Royal Women’s Palace

From predynastic times, the pharaohs of ancient Egypt married multiple wives to emphasize their wealth, facilitate diplomatic alliances, and ensure their line of succession. The pharaoh’s many wives and other dependents of all ranks—his mother, sisters, aunts, and children, along with their servants and attendants—lived together in a place called the royal women’s palace.

The women’s residence functioned under a strict hierarchy. Although the residents were primarily women and children, the administration was conducted entirely by men. Their roles ranged from overseers and scribes to butlers and guards.

By the New Kingdom, the palaces were economically independent female communities, and their estates were used for farming and manufacturing textiles.


Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Hieroglyphs are the elements of the character-based system of writing used by the ancient Egyptians. There are more than one thousand different hieroglyphic signs. These symbols depict objects or concepts familiar to the ancient Egyptians; most hieroglyphs also represent sounds in the Egyptian language. For example, the hieroglyph of an owl was pronounced with the “m” sound, so the sign could mean either “owl” or the “m” sound, depending on the context.

Hieroglyphs decorate monuments, tombs, and objects of everyday life. They fuse art and language, and express meaning according to each author’s distinct style. For example, hieroglyphs can be read horizontally or vertically and from the left or from the right. Characters generally appear in rows or bands, separated by lines. A cartouche is an oval that groups hieroglyphs, typically representing a royal name, such as Nefertari, shown at right.


“The Harem Conspiracy” The Murder of Ramsses III

In 1155 BCE, the thirty-second year of his reign, Pharaoh Ramesses III was murdered in an attempted coup led by Queen Tiye, one of his secondary wives, her son Pentawer, and numerous other female residents and male administrators of the harem. The conspirators struck while Ramesses III was at his harem in Thebes. The coup failed, but the pharaoh died sixteen days later. Ramesses IV took the throne and thwarted the conspirators’ goal to put Pentawer in power.

The papyrus scroll chronicles the court proceedings for the conspirators, all of whom were captured and put on trial. Some of the accused were severely reprimanded; others were executed or forced to commit suicide. Queen Tiye is mentioned in the document, yet her fate remains unknown.


Women in Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, women were active participants in all spheres of society, from the fields and courtrooms to temples and palaces. Men and women were treated as equals in the eyes of the law. All women—commoners and queens alike—had the right to own property, run businesses, and bring cases before the courts of law. Women were also tasked with raising children and running the household.


Life in the Harem—the Royal Women’s Palace

The pharaohs of ancient Egypt had multiple wives as a means to ensure their line of succession, emphasize their wealth, and facilitate diplomatic alliances. The pharaoh’s many wives, along with his mother, sisters, aunts, and children, lived together in the royal women’s palace, also known as the harem.

The harem functioned under a strict hierarchy and singular purpose to produce a royal heir. Although the residents were primarily women and children, the administration was conducted entirely by men who served in roles such as governors, scribes, butlers, and guards.

By the New Kingdom, the women’s palaces were economically independent communities, and their estates were used for farming and manufacturing textiles.


Votive Statue of a Cat

Excavation site unknown
Late Period, 26th–31st dynasty (about 664–332 bce) Bronze
Cat. 874

[Artwork description: Smooth gray sculpture of a cat sitting upright, regal, with its front paws touching. It is slender and has tall rounded ears with holes near the bottom. It’s eyes are deeply set and it has a large human-like nose.]


Bastet: Goddess of Domestic Joy

Animals in ancient Egypt were often seen as earthly embodiments of the gods. The cat was the animal form of Bastet, the goddess of love, dance, music, and domestic joy. She is the tame form of the lioness deity Sekhmet, the goddess of divine wrath.

Votive animal statues like this one were offered to the gods in exchange for luck or protection. As the goddess of domestic joy, Bastet was the protector of women and children and was reputed to possess a magical power to stimulate love, which ensured her popularity


Palace video, 2018

8:04 min. on loop

© Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft Montréal / Pointe-à-Callière, Queens of Egypt Exhibition

Presented with special thanks to exhibition partner, Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex

[Artwork description: Large screen shows an animated view of the palace as depicted in the video game Assassin’s Creed. The view is depicted as if flying through it with a drone. The inner courtyard has multiple tables with objects on them. Large planters line the walls with large green leaves. Detailed brick and stone work make up the walls and paintings fill the palace walls.]


Harp Ornament Depicting the Goddess Hathor

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 19th–20th dynasty (1292–1075 bce)
Wood
Provv. 0406
Ancient Egyptian harps are known primarily from tomb paintings. They started as small hand-held instruments in the Old Kingdom or earlier and later evolved into large, highly decorated objects.

[Artwork description: This sculpture of a female head is made of carved wood with red and black paint decorations. At the top of the head is a flat cylindrical crown. Below it is a wig that stretches across the female’s forehead and then falls straight on either side. The wig is decorated with black dots at the top and radiating rows of smaller dots where the figure’s ears are barely visible, ending in thick vertical black stripes at the chin level. Thick black vertical stripes continue around the back of the sculpture. wo thick black horizontal lines shaped like eyebrows lie just below the dotted top of the wig. There is a hole in between the two lines in the middle of the figure’s forehead to accommodate a separate sculptural element. Below the hole is a single thick black band that is just above the figure’s slim eyebrows. The figure has almond-shaped eyes heavily outlined in black, a nose that is partially broken off and shapely, closed lips. The wood is vertically cracked through the middle of the face from the hole at the upper edge of the veil all the way to the bottom of the sculpture where a crescent shaped piece appears broken off at the figure’s neck. The wig ends on either side of the neck.]


Sistrums

Excavation site unknown
Late Period, 25th–31st dynasty (about 712–332 bce) Bronze
Cat. 6251 & 6255
Shaking the sistrum produced a jingling sound like a rattle. The sound evoked the goddess Hathor walking through papyrus.

[Artwork description Part 1: Part of a metal sistrum. The center consists of a thick metal that has a short flat bottom and sides that become wider as they rise to a rounded top. Four sets of holes are spaced evenly across the center with four metal rods running through them. The rods are curved on both ends with some decoration that is difficult to make out due to wear. They are light brown on the ends and light green in the middle.The top has a sculpture of the goddess Hathor who is represented as a cow laying down with her head raised and looking forward, with a round head piece on top. The bottom has a small area of light brown with dark teal paint above it. There are several dents, scrapes, and areas of discoloration from aging.

Artwork description part 2: Metal sistro handle that is a dark bronze color. The base is long and resembles the top end of a baseball bat. The top of the base has angled hash marks and flares out into gentle triangular points and has four thin bands stacked on top of each other a few inches below. A bust sits on the top. The head sits on a fan shaped collar. The triangular shaped face comes to a rounded point at the chin. There are protruding almond shaped eyes and a thin nose and small lips. The hair is thick on top with three sets of lines. Two braids frame the face, landing on the chest and curling at the end. On top of the head is the base for the sistro. It is flat and the left side has a rectangular piece that rises vertically. The one on the right has been broken off. Both sides have handles that are S shaped and connect to the head near the ears with a loop extending below, resting on the top of the fan shaped collar. There are several areas of discoloration and scratches.]


Clapper with the Face of the Goddess Hathor

Excavation site unknown New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce)
Wood
Cat. 6930
Clappers were often associated with the goddess Hathor and were believed to protect against evil spirits.

[Artwork description: Dark wooden carving of a forearm and hand. The carving has the fingers in the air, palm facing away from the viewer. The bottom is rounded and has a hole in the middle. The fingers are straight and resting against each other. The nails all have pieces missing and the second, fourth, and fifth nails come to sharp points. The sleeve has highly detailed patterns carved into it. The cuff has a strip in the center with eight short columns with squares in the middle. The left end has a backwards 7 shape and the right end has a 7 shape. Below is the carving of a head. The round head has large triangular ears and large almond-shaped eyes. It has a wide nose and small lips and is wearing a wig with straight hair strands that cascade down each side of the head and end in a band. The middle of the hair has a round decoration with rectangles carved around the edges. Below is a second cuff that has a smooth horizontal band. Underneath is a strip of long carved vertical lines that connect to curved triangles that overlap each other and have curved triangular lines carved into them. Below is a strip with three carved horizontal lines. The base has the same curved triangles that overlap each other on the bottom and a central column with hieroglyphics that are difficult to depict due to the aging of the wood. Multiple scratches, dents, pits, and areas of discoloration cover the surface of the sculpture.]


Music in Ancient Egypt

Both secular life and religious worship in ancient Egypt were punctuated by the performance of music and dance. Hymns and processional songs were a part of all religious rituals, and musical groups performed at festivals and celebrations. In the harem, or royal women’s palace, women sang, danced, and played instruments including harps, lutes, drums, flutes, cymbals, clappers, and tambourines. Some instruments were associated with Hathor, a goddess of many things including music, love, beauty, fertility, and pleasure. Hand-shaped clappers, struck together like applause, were believed to protect against evil spirits. Shaking the sistrum—a metal, percussive instrument—produced a jingling sound like a rattle, evoking Hathor walking through papyrus.


Flute Case

Probably from the Theban Necropolis
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Leather and wood
Cat. 6278
This flute case is decorated with flute players, drummers, and geometric designs.

[Artwork description: Long tube to hold a flute. The tube has several segments of heiroglyphics depicting people drumming and playing the flute. These scenes are divided by bands of geometric designs including series of diamonds, circles, and hash marks. The colors have faded, but strong teal, black, and white colors are visible. There is a large crack near the bottom and scratches and dents throughout the surface.]


Flute

Deir el-Medina New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce)
Reed
S. 09940
Flutes, the oldest wind instruments, were usually made from the stalks of marsh reeds.

[Artwork description: Long, thin wooden flute with three small holes on the top. There are several scratches and dents in the wood and the end is jagged.]


Jars

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Ceramic
Cat. 3528
The ancient Egyptians cooked outdoors, but they also had indoor kitchens. Pottery jars like these were stuck into the ground and used to store water.

[Artwork description: A tall thin brown jar with patches of roughness along the smooth edges. The bottom has a gentle curve and the top has a thick lip. There are multiple chips on the surface along with horizontal scratches. There are dark brown and black blemishes across the vase. Near the base of the neck of the jar is an etched design that resembles the veins in a leaf. One tall thin line in the middle with three extending upward on both sides.]


Unguent Vase

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Egyptian alabaster
Cat. 3274
Small, pear-shaped vases like this one usually contained luxury items, such as perfume or ointments. They were part of the funerary goods found in the tombs of wealthy families.

[No artwork description.]


Amphora

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Egyptian alabaster
Cat. 3233
Carved and polished vessels made of Egyptian alabaster quarried in mines in Hatnub in Middle Egypt were expensive and sought after as status symbols.

[No artwork description.]


Jars

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Ceramic
Cat. 3514

[Artwork description: Light brown jar with a base shaped like an acorn and a long thin neck. There is a band of dark brown horizontal lines near the top of the main portion with short vertical hashes. The top of the neck has an intricate dark brown design with long vertical lines that extend downward between that band and a smaller dark brown band on the neck. There is a small dark brown rectangle near the base.]


Bowl with Floral Motifs

Heliopolis New Kingdom, 18th dynasty (about 1539–1292 bce)
Ceramic
S. 03682
The floral and geometric decoration on this bowl suggests it may have served a cultic function, perhaps during temple celebrations or funerary rituals.

[Artwork description: This goblet-shaped ceramic cup has a large rounded, slightly tapered bowl supported by a short stem and small round base. The terracotta surface is decorated with a painted design of floral and geometric shapes in black.Two bands of black rectangles joined by a thin line decorate the bottom of the bowl. The base has five lines of alternating black and red stripes.]


Stela with the Face of the Goddess Hathor

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 19th dynasty (about 1292–1190 bce) Painted limestone
Cat. 1656

[No artwork description.]


Plaque Depicting the Goddess Taweret

Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 19th–20th dynasty (about 1292–1075 bce) Wood
S. 07607

[No artwork description.]


Fragment of a Queen’s Crown

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom (about 1550–1076 bce)
Wood
Cat. 6950
This fragment is composed of a solar disc resting between a pair of curved cow horns topped with two falcon feathers. It would have decorated the top of a queen’s statuette and symbolizes the goddess Hathor.

[Artwork description: Fragment of a wooden sculpture. A dark piece of wood is rounded and extends into a U shape. The right side comes to a point and the left side is broken about half way up and also comes to a point with lighter colored wood. A large reddish brown oval sits on top of the base and has two feather-like brown columns stretch upwards and end with curved tops. Each has a straight vein in the middle with lines that stretch outward from the center. Multiple scratches, dents, pits, and areas of discoloration cover the surface.]


Amulets Depicting the Goddess Taweret

Excavation site unknown
Late Period, 26th–31st dynasty (about 664–332 bce) Faience
Cat. 538, Cat. 535, P. 3284
Taweret was only worshipped in domestic settings. Amulets such as this one may have been used as necklace pendants to grant fertility or protect newborns.

[No artwork description.]


Statue of Queen Tiye depicted as Goddess Taweret

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III (about 1390–1353 bce)
Wood
Cat. 0566
This statue depicts the goddess Taweret with the face of Queen Tiye, hinting at Tiye’s royal, divine nature.

[Artwork description: This small wooden statuette shows a woman with detailed facial features in a standing pose with her arms at her sides and her lower body broken at the thighs. Her head is topped by a flat cylindrical crown that sits atop a wig with heavily carved curls extending on either side of her face, past her shoulders and almost to her breasts. Short vertical lines are carved to represent “bangs” high on her forehead. Delicately curving eyebrows frame her large almond-shaped eyes, below which are full, rounded cheeks, a delicate nose, and a downturned mouth. Her hair covers most of her shoulders that flow into two slender arms. One arm ends with a hand that has fingers curled upwards while the other hand has been broken off. Two pendulous breasts with large nipples hang almost to the figure’s waist. A rounded belly protrudes over the top of the statue’s legs, which have been broken off. A hole is in the middle of the statue’s forehead to accommodate a separate sculptural element (probably a cobra, symbolizing royalty).]


Wild Animals in Egypt

Ancient Egyptians lived alongside many species of powerful animals that inhabited the Nile River Valley. Hippopotamuses, crocodiles, lions, vultures, snakes, and other animals were worshipped as gods and goddesses, and some even served as symbols of royalty. Taweret was the goddess of maternity and motherhood. She is depicted as a pregnant female hippo with a crocodile tail and the feet of a lion—all animals known for strongly protecting their young. The goddess Hathor was associated with rebirth in the afterlife, as well as love, sensuality, maternity, joy, and music. Hathor was often depicted with a woman’s face, cow’s ears, and a curled headdress and symbolized by a solar disc resting between a pair of curved cow horns topped with two falcon feathers.


Stela of Anherkhau

Probably from Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 20th dynasty (about 1189–1075 bce) Limestone
Cat. 7358
In this stela offered by the tomb workers’ foreman Anherkhau, he is shown in the upper section, in front of the Theban gods Amun-Ra, Montu (shown with falcon head), and Pharaoh Amenhotep I. Below, two men worship Queen Ahmose-Nefertari and the goddess Rattaui, wife of the god Montu.

[Artwork description: Stone tablet steele that is flat on the bottom and rounded on the top. The light tan stone has an intricate scene carved into it that include the gods Amon-Ra, Montu, and Amenhotep I. A figure wearing a long robe and a cape with a bald head stands at the left edge – facing the right. The figure’s arms are raised – hands up, palms facing out. The figure stands in front of Amon-Ra’s sceptre. Amon-Ra stands facing to the left. Just the profile of his face is visible. He stands one foot in front of the other and wears a robe that has a tie around the waist that ties in the front. He has a wide collar around his lower neck. He wears a large headpiece that has two tall plumes that are shaped like feathers. The headpiece has a thin tube-like tail that runs from the base and hangs down along his back. He has a beard and goatee. Behind him the god Montu stands in the same position. He stands barefoot, one foot in front of the other. He wears a wrap around his waist that continues to his knees. His face resembles a raven and he wears a headpiece with a large circle at the base with two large feather-shaped plumes rising from it and a short snake-like figure on the front. He holds a scepter in his right hand which is bent at the elbow and holds an ankh with his left hand. Behind him is the god Amenhotep I. He wears a long robe with a pleated apron at the waist. His headpiece is shaped like a football helmet that has a pipe-shaped image in the shape of a 7 on the left side of the headpiece with snakes coming out of the end by the jaw and on the forehead. His face is shown in profile. He has large eyes and a small nose and mouth. He has a goatee that is rectangular shaped. His waist is turned forward and he holds a sceptre at the base as it rests on his right shoulder. His left arm hangs straight at his side and he holds an ankh in his hand. A full column of hieroglyphics runs between the first figure and Amon-Ra. Two short columns of hieroglyphics run between the other gods. The bottom half also shows a scene with four figures. Two figures stand facing to the right and two gods stand facing to the left. The first is wearing a robe that is tied at the waist with an apron that extends up the back and ties on the left hip. The figure wears a wide collar at the base of the neck and has shoulder-length straight hair. The figure’s face is shown in profile with a large nose and eyes and less prominent mouth and chin. The figure is leaning forward, hands raised in front of their chest. The next figure has the same posture and clothing, but has a shaved head and a more prominent eye. The first god stands straight, feet together, facing the left with right arm extended holding a sceptre. The figure is wearing a robe with a vertical strip from the middle of the neck to the waist, a tie around the waist that hangs down near the ankles, and a long robe. The figure wears a wide collar around the base of the neck and a headpiece with a base with snake heads protruding from the front and left side and a large U shaped object with a large circle in the middle that has a small circle in the center. The figure has flat, shoulder length hair that comes to a point just below the neck. It has a small, but protruding nose with a recessed chin and large almond-shaped eye. The figure’s right arm is extended, bent gently at the elbow holding a sceptre and the left arm is relaxed at the side and holds an ankh. The final god also stands feet together, facing to the left. The figure’s right arm is bent at the elbow, hand holding the base of a sceptre near the waist. The left arm rests at the figure’s side and holds an ankh. The figure wears a long, fitted robe that continues to the ankles and has long ties that extend to near the bottom of the robe. The figure has a wide collar at the base of the neck and long strips of fabric that extend off the headpiece and are tucked behind the figure’s large head. The headpiece has a snake head protruding from the front and back left side. The top of the headpiece has a platform with four figure-like emblems with round heads and slender bodies. Hieroglyphics surround the figures appearing above their heads and between their bodies. There are several dents, scratches, and missing pieces along with discoloration. There are two holes, one on each side near the middle that appear to be rust-filled.]


The Goddess Hathor

Hathor was one of ancient Egypt’s most popular and widely worshipped goddesses. As a celestial deity and the wife of Horus, the god of kingship and the sky, she reflected idealized feminine traits of fertility, motherhood, and domesticity and, as such, was the mythic counterpart to human queens. Hathor was often portrayed as a cow, symbolizing her maternal and celestial aspect, although her most common form was as a woman wearing a headdress of a solar disc resting between a pair of curved cow horns. She could also be depicted as a human with a woman’s face, cow ears, and a curled headdress.

As a funerary deity associated with rebirth and the afterlife, Hathor had local cults all over Egypt. She was one of the deities commonly invoked in private prayers and votive offerings, particularly by women desiring children.


Fragment of a Female Statuette

Probably from the Theban Necropolis
New Kingdom, first half of the 18th dynasty (about 1550–1450 bce)
Limestone
Provv. 3605
This statuette, intended to receive prayers and offerings brought to the deceased, is typical of those placed in funerary chapels of the elite in the Theban Necropolis.

[Artwork description: Small carved bust of a woman. She has long dark hair that appears braided with light brown ties at the end. There are remnants of dark red paint on the top of her hair by her bangs. She is wearing a flowing white shirt that ends just above the waistline. Orange, brown, and teal markings appear sporadically across the white shirt. She has large almond shaped eyes, long dark eyebrows, a thin nose with dark markings on the tip, and her lips are relaxed. The paint is chipped and fading.]


Statuette of a Lady called Tanefret

Probably from the Theban Necropolis
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III (about 1390–1353 bce)
Painted limestone
Cat. 3094
Division of labor according to gender was made explicit in Egyptian artistic convention. Women were almost always portrayed with paler skin, intended to emphasize the indoor nature of their lives. This statuette is inscribed for a woman called Tanefret and dedicated to the funerary deities Osiris and Anubis.

[Artwork description: A limestone figure of a seated woman wearing an elaborate hairstyle, ornate necklace and bracelets. The woman’s black painted hair is textured to resemble an abundance of curls with a wide hair ornament that runs along her part. Eyes and brows are lined in black. She wears a brightly colored necklace collar and matching cuff bracelets. Her body and face are white as is the seat she occupies. Hands are placed palm down on her knees. Near her bare feet, the suggestion of a long garment is carved from the stone. The side of the seat offers hieroglyphics including a bird, several chevron patterns and other shapes.]


Amulet Representing the Queen AhmoseNefertari

Probably from Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 19th–20th dynasty (about 1292–1075 bce) Faience
Cat. 1371
This amulet shows a queen wearing garments associated with various goddesses, reinforcing her connection with the divine.

[Artwork description: A standing human figure is carved in relief from gray stone. It is looking down with a quiet expression. The face is oval and is surrounded by smooth hair that comes down to the chest. A short column extends upward from the middle of the forehead and supports two long, oval columns that are about a third of the height of the figure. The right arm hangs straight down from the shoulder and ends in a closed hand at just below hip level. The left arm is bent at the elbow and is holding an object that is shaped like an upside down “U”. This object is about half the height of the torso. It covers the left breast. The right breast is small and round. The hem of a garment is carved at mid-calf. The feet disappear into the stone from which the figure is carved.]


Statuette of a Dignitary Holding a standard with Head of the Goddess Hathor

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1076 bce) Painted limestone
Cat. 3036
In ancient Egypt, processions were a part of the many religious feasts held throughout the year. This statuette of a Hathor worshipper holds a standard bearing the name and likeness of this popular goddess.

[Artwork description: This limestone statuette depicts a female form with textured, black painted hair, reddish terracotta face, arms and hands and wearing a long white garment that ends at the ankle. The standard bearing the head of Hathor stands at chest height in front of her and she clasps between her hands. The main figure has a rounded face with black outlined eyes and brows. The hair is carved to suggest a center part and falls to cover her chest. The white garment covers the shoulders and upper arms and has horizontal lines representing pleats in the fabric. The skirt portion balloons out slightly towards the bottom before being drawn in and ending in a ruffled hem. Some of the standard and figure has been lost at the very bottom, but a portion of the legs is visible. The off-white standard is topped with a female likeness wearing a banded wig, and crown. Its eyes appear closed, its ears are visible. It has a necklace of breastplate composed of incised lines creating an arc. The narrower standard stretches downward and contains a row of vertical, black hieroglyphics within two lines. The figure retains most of it reddish paint with areas of wear visible.]


Amulet with the Face of the Goddess Hathor

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1076 bce) Faience
Cat. 1221

[No artwork description.]


Judicial Papyrus of Turin (also known as “The Harem Conspiracy Papyrus”)

Likely from Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 20th dynasty, reign of Ramesses IV (about 1155–1149 BCE)
Ink on papyrus
Cat. 1875
Our knowledge of the Harem conspiracy comes to us primarily through a series of documents written some three thousand years ago. Thought to have been part of a single book-roll up to fifteen feet long, the papyrus is now fragmented into several pieces. The most complete and lengthy piece, displayed here, is referred to as the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, or “The Harem Conspiracy Papyrus.” It is written in hieratic—a simplified, cursive hieroglyph form—and read from right to left. It contains the conspirators’ names and the punishments delivered by a judicial court.

[No artwork description.]


Block Statue of Keret, Overseer of the Women’s Palace

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Amenhotep II or Thutmose IV (about 1425–1390 bce)
Granodiorite
Cat. 3085
This statue depicts a man named Keret, one of the administrators of the women’s palace, sitting with his knees against his chest. This stylized carving is called a block statue. The front surface provides room for hieroglyphic texts. Here, the individual who commissioned and dedicated the sculpture asks the god Ptah-Sokar-Osiris to receive offerings made at the city temple.

[Artwork description: This stylized statue depicts a squatting or seated figure with knees drawn up to the chest and arms resting on top of the knees. The face shows eyes and brows incised as if they have been thickened with liner, a small mouth shows the hint of a smile. Hair is portrayed as blunt bangs that skim the ears and continue to longer lengths at the back. The body resembles a block roughly shaped like the squatting figure. Eight lines of hieroglyphics decorate the front. Some of the characters include birds, half circles, triangles and ankhs. The figure sits on a square plinth of the material: smooth, dark charcoal gray stone with rounded edges and soft lines.]


Egyptian Statuary

Block statues, normally carved from stone, are stylized images of a dignitary squatting with his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms folded on top of the knees. The front surface provided ample room for carving hieroglyphic texts. The block statue in this case depicts a man named Keret, an administrator of the royal women’s palace.

In Egypt, wooden sculpture does not seem to have been of lower prestige than stone. Quality wood was imported from lands in the eastern Mediterranean region, and working a dense wood was, in fact, much harder than carving some of the stones commonly used for Egyptian statuary. The refined Statue of a Lady, carved in masterful detail from a single piece of wood, depicts a woman who might have lived in one of the harems.


Statuette of a Lady

Probably from Thebes
New Kingdom, 19th–20th dynasty (about 1292–1075 bce) Wood
Cat. 3105
This refined statue depicts a woman who might have lived in one of the royal women’s residences. Some queens were daughters or sisters of Egyptian pharaohs, some were foreign-born princesses sent to Egypt to make diplomatic marriages, and some were women of elite but less exalted birth. The statue was carved from a single piece of luxurious wood imported from the eastern Mediterranean.

[Artwork description: Wood statue of a standing woman wearing an elaborate hairstyle and long garment. The figure stands on a square sharp-edged plinth, one bare foot slightly ahead of the other. Her arm is crossed in front of her chest. She wears a garment with pleated sleeves that fan out from the chest. The lower skirt shows a vertical line down the center with short diagonal marks running alongside it. The woman wears a hairstyle of heavy curls with bangs across the forehead as well as large round earrings. The wood is a deep warm bronze color.]


Statue of a Girl Called Nefertemau

Probably from Thebes
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Wood and gold leaf
Cat. 3107
The women’s residence served as both a nursery and a private school where noble and elite boys and girls were raised and educated. The inscription on the base tells us the girl’s mother dedicated this statue to her so that she could live on after her death.

[Artwork description: The wooden figure depicts a standing girl with a short black bob of curls, gold necklace and hip belt. The slender figure stands with one bare foot slightly ahead of the other and arms at her sides. Her hair is painted black and textured. Eyes and brows are lined in black with her nose and mouth carved. Her necklace and hip belt are craved to show texture and retain some gold leaf still. She wears no other adornment, but the jewelry and she is a warm reddish-brown color. She stands on a rectangular wooden plinth.]


Adorning the Body

Egyptian men and women wore necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings, both for protection and to show prosperity and status. Jewelry was made of materials ranging from humble shells and earthenware beads to expensive gold and semiprecious stones. Glass and faience were often used in place of stones because the material could be produced cheaply in many colors. Jewelry was not only worn for decoration; it also had a ritual purpose. People wore amulets to ward off evil influences and bad luck or to promote positive qualities like fertility and prosperity. They wore symbols of the gods and goddesses to evoke the deities’ power or to ask for divine protection.


Beauty in Ancient Egypt

Egyptian men and women paid great attention to beauty and fashion, and the wealthy delighted in sporting the latest clothing, hair, jewelry, and makeup styles. Many Egyptian names—such as Nefertari—incorporate the word “nefer,” which means “beautiful.”

The warm, dry, dusty climate dictated many of their fashion choices and beauty routines. For example, kohl, ground from the black mineral stibnite, was applied around the eyes not only to make the wearer beautiful but also to provide protection from bacteria, infections, and the harsh rays of the sun. Life expectancy in ancient Egypt for those who survived childhood was about forty years.


Women in Religion

Religion suffused every aspect of ancient Egypt. Pleasing the gods or invoking their protection was a part of daily life at all levels of society. Families kept an altar or shrine inside the home, and women practiced religious rituals surrounding fertility and childbirth to help them fulfill their societal role as mothers. Some upper-class women also pursued religious occupations as temple priestesses who entertained the gods and goddesses through music and dance. Egypt’s queens played an important role in religious processions and celebrations, representing the female aspect of the divine on Earth.


Bead and Amulet Necklace

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Semi-precious stones (carnelian, quartz, lapis lazuli, amphibolite)
S. 00275
This necklace is made with spherical beads, small amulets shaped like ointment vases, and green and yellow pendants in the shape of Egyptian hearts.

[Artwork description: Made of semi-precious stones, this necklace has reddish-brown beads and hanging amulets of miniature vases that resemble those used to contain ointment. There are also larger green and yellow hanging charms or pendants that represent the heart. One large cylindrical bead with a loop at the top is strung horizontally among the beads and would have been placed at the center of the wearer’s chest. It is shaped like the symbol for the “wedjat eye,” which is the combined eye of a human and a falcon that represents the god Horus. The largest bead on the necklace is an elongated orangish cylinder, at the back of the necklace where a clasp would be, which tapers to a point at each end and is incised with a design.]


Faience Necklace

Excavation site unknown
Late Period, 25th–31st dynasty (about 722–332 bce)
Gold, faience, carnelian
S. 00277/2
This necklace is made up of seventy-eight beads, all of which are faience, except for two, which are carnelian. A small gold pendant hangs in the center, shaped like a lunar crescent combined with the sun disc. The ornament is made of gold, which was hammered into a mold. The symbol was sacred to the god Thoth, who measured time by fractions of the moon.

[Artwork description: This necklace of small round green ceramic beads features a small circular gold pendant shaped like the sun that is topped with a crescent shape. The pendant is suspended between two small orangish beads made of carnelian, a semiprecious stone.]


Jewelry: More Than Decoration

Necklaces, like those seen in this case, were made of semi precious stones—such as carnelian, quartz, and lapis lazuli—combined with expensive precious metals like gold. Carnelian was a favored stone in ancient Egypt because its orangey-red hue was similar to flesh and blood and was therefore symbolic of life and health. Egyptian faience is a ceramic material with a silica body and a bright turquoise glaze, a color closely linked with fertility, life, the gleaming qualities of the sun, and the brilliance of eternity.

Amulets and ornaments adorning necklaces—from miniature ointment vases, ib-hearts, and the wedjat eye of Horus to the lunar crescent and sun-disc of Thoth— conferred protection, prosperity, wisdom, and wishes for good health upon the wearer.


Bead and Amulet Necklace

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Semi Precious stones (carnelian, quartz, lapis lazuli, amphibolite)
S. 00276
This necklace is made from strands of carnelian and red jasper beads, interspersed with amulets of miniature ointment jars and protective eye symbols.

[Artwork description: Made of semi-precious stones, this necklace has triple strands of reddish-brown and lighter, yellowish beads woven together in loops that are interspersed with hanging amulets of miniature vases that resemble those used to contain ointment. Spaced at intervals are three cylindrical beads with a loop at the top that are shaped like the symbol for the “wedjat eye,” which is the combined eye of a human and a falcon that represents the god Horus. There are also three horizontal brownish cylindrical beads interspersed among the triple strands. These are tapered with a larger rounded shape at one end. The largest bead on the necklace is an elongated orangish cylinder, worn at the back of the necklace where a clasp would be, which tapers to a point at each end and is incised with a design.]


Cosmetic Tools

Beauty and care were essential for health and well-being. Makeup tools such as scissors, tweezers, razors, combs, pins, cosmetic spoons, and containers were part of grave goods found in Egyptian tombs. A pleasant appearance was part of the perfection and harmony sought in the afterlife.

Cosmetic pigments were obtained from red ochre, charcoal, chalk, and minerals like copper and malachite. The colors could be mixed with greasy materials like fat and oil to make them moisturizing and to facilitate their application. Flat spatulas were used for applying colored powders on the eyes and face.

Kohl was used by the Egyptians as a makeup and disinfectant for the eyes. It was made by grinding up the black mineral stibnite and mixing it with fatty and moisturizing substances. The personal containers of the elite were sometimes engraved with a cartouche.


Monkey-Shaped Cosmetic Pot

Excavation site unknown
Late Period, 25th–31st dynasty (about 722–332 bce) Faience
Cat. 0798
This cosmetic pot may once have held cosmetic powders or creams. Monkeys and baboons were associated with various gods, including Thoth, the god of wisdom.

[No artwork description.]


Cosmetic Instrument

Probably from Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 18th–19th dynasty (about 1539–1189 bce) Bronze Provv.
0629
This instrument resembles scissors and has one end shaped like a spatula. It may have been used like tweezers.

[No artwork description.]


Cosmetic Spatula

Probably from the Theban Necropolis
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Bronze
Cat. 6330
Flat spatulas were used for applying cosmetics to the eyes and face. This one is shaped like a ritual scepter and symbol of authority.

[Artwork description: Cosmetic spatula with a round, long, thin handle and a long flat rectangular shaped bottom with somewhat curved edges. The spatula is a dark brown color with reddish and black splotches and several scratches and dents.]


Kohl Pot of Queen Tiye

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III (about 1390–1353 bce)
Faience
Cat. 6236
This cylindrical tube is inscribed with the cartouches of Amenhotep III and his Great Royal Wife, Queen Tiye. It may have belonged to the queen herself or been presented as a royal gift.

[Artwork description: A light brown wooden kohl tube with a smooth edge on top. A dark brown wooden makeup application stick rises from the top of the tube. The wooden tube is decorated with a column of hieroglyphics with five sections. First: A spoon shape with a horizontal line at the top and a flag shape over a flat bowl that has two horizontal lines below it. Second: A vertical oval with a flat base surrounds a black circle with a symbol below – a solid base has a shape extending to the left with jagged edges on the left side and a reed leaf on top and extending to the right an ankh – a cross shape with a large loop on top. A black bowl sits below. Third: On the left a semi circle with four rounded points extending from the top and an upside down half circle below it. To the right, a tall plant-like shape that has a center stalk that extends up and curves to the right. Near the base two leaves extend on either side of the stalk. Fourth: A large vertical oval with a flat base. Inside are two reed leaf shapes with a third thin line that curves to the right at the top. Below is a solid base with a fish-like shape extending to the left with a shape similar to a candle holder on top. Another form extends to the right – a thin vertical rectangle extends upward with a curved stem on top that bows to the right and has a long prong in the middle with a shorter one on each side. At the top of the bowed portion are two small angled rectangles. Fifth: On the left is a tall reed with a slight curve at the top. Next to it is an ankh – a cross with a large vertical loop on top. The tube has several pits, dents, and areas of discoloration.]


Colorful Powders

Men and women used tinted powders to make up their faces and bodies. Common cosmetics included a green eye paint produced from malachite that symbolizes fertility; a black paint called kohl used to rim the eyes; rouge and red lip paint made from iron oxide; and tinted powders containing ceruse, or white lead, used as a skin whitener.

Cosmetic spoons, often made from precious materials like alabaster, were not used for makeup application but were used to contain cosmetic powders.


Cosmetic Spoon Decorated with a Swimmer

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Egyptian alabaster
S. 01424

[Artwork description: This square shaped stone spoon or scoop has a slightly rough texture of small diagonal lines. It has a narrow handle that appears to be the lower torso of a human figure, viewed from the rear. The torso, identified as a swimmer, consists of the back (with no arms), a tapered waist that has a belt-like band around it, rounded buttocks, and legs broken halfway below the knees. The spoon was likely used for storing or mixing perfumes or minerals for makeup.]


Cosmetic Spoon

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Egyptian alabaster
Cat. 3284

[No artwork description.]


Cosmetic Spoon

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Egyptian alabaster
Cat. 3283
This spoon is shaped like a cartouche or shen ring: a rope encircling a sacred space that protects it from chaos. The shape of this container would have conferred protection on the cosmetic it held, and thereby on the wearer.

[No artwork description.]


Cosmetic Spoon

Deir el-Medina (left) and Valley of the Queens (right)
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Wood
S. 07592
This humble cosmetic spoon might have been used by a tomb worker.

[No artwork description.]


Cosmetic Spoon

Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Wood
Cat. 6442
This elaborately carved cosmetic spoon was found in the tomb of a prince. It is decorated with bouquets of lotus flowers, a symbol of rebirth.

[Artwork description: Dark wood cosmetic spoon with fine details carved into it. The spoon is shaped like an upside down teardrop. The edge has a thin rim with a thick border of triangles with curved tops. The base of the teardrop has a handle that stretches about two inches to each side of the middle point. Diagonal carved lines start longer at the edges and get shorter in the center. Below is a thick strip that is even with the right side and stretches about an inch beyond the left side. It has a strip of short horizontal lines on the left, followed by a solid square with a sideways Y carved into it, followed by a rectangle with vertical lines carved into it, followed by a square with a single horizontal line in the middle. Under it are three fan-shaped sections with vertical lines and a triangle in the middle. On the left side the fan fades into a long, thin rod that connects to the base which is a rectangle shape with an angled left side, covered in overlapping carved triangles. An applicator sits on the base to the left and has a sharp point. The center column is a stack of give fan-shaped sections with vertical lines carved into them. They rest on a tall square column that curves at the top and stretches outward with horizontal lines carved into it. The column on the right extends into a rod that is missing the bottom half.]


Cosmetic Box

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Wood
Cat. 6415
This semi-cylindrical container has five compartments; a hunting scene carved on the back, framed with lotus flower petals and mandrake fruit; and a flat sliding cover decorated with a vegetal pattern and, in the middle of the cover, protective eyes flanking a column of hieroglyphs.

[Artwork description: Wooden cosmetic box with a rounded bottom and a flat top. It has two internal compartments that run vertically and are separated by a thin piece of wood. The lid slides into groves on the top. The top of the lid has a series of circles bordered by two thin vertical strips. Below it is a thick row with 20 vertical lines carved into the surface. They alternate between longer and slightly shorter lines. Below are two more strips of circles with thin horizontal strips above and below them. Next is a row of eight large carved circles. Another row of small circles bordered by thin horizontal strips is below. The middle of the lid has three columns of hieroglyphics. The sides have symbols that are shaped like eyes, but have lines protruding from the top in the shape of a curved V. They have slightly curved horizontal lines underneath. The middle column has a beetle on top, followed by two carved horizontal lines, then an almond shape that lays horizontally with a slight horizontal dash below, and a shape such as a corn stalk with a horizontal line running through the middle. The bottom of the lid includes a row of small circles bordered by two thin horizontal pieces. Next is a row of twenty-five thin oval shapes carved into the wood boarded by two horizontal thin strips. Another set of small circles bordered by two thin horizontal strips. Below is another row of twenty-five thin oval shapes carved into the wood bordered by a thin horizontal wooden strip. The next section includes three large ovals on each side with a smaller round hole carved out in the middle. The final portion is a row of eleven horizontal rectangles of varying length, with the longest being in the middle and shortest on the edges. The design seems to continue down the sides and onto the curved back of the box. The bottom end of the box has a round button shape. There is miscoloring and erosion around the box, the worst being the top left where much of the wood is missing.]


Unguent Vase

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Faience
Cat. 3360
Blue faience is a material composed of crushed quartz or sand. Ancient Egypt considered objects made of to be magical, filled with the undying shimmer of the sun and imbued with powers of rebirth. The quality of this vase suggests that it may have been used in religious rituals or burial ceremonies.

[No artwork description.]


Box with Floral Motifs

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty (about 1539–1292 bce) Painted wood
Cat. 2448
This box was likely used to store clothing or cosmetics and would have been prized in the women’s residence. Two faint inscriptions on the box’s top and front knob reveal the name of its owner: the lady Tamit. The panels are painted to look like the underlying wood—a precious material in Egypt—and the borders are decorated with geometric patterns and stylized flower petals.

[Artwork description: A rectangular, painted, wooden box with short legs and lid. The box has two large knobs, one at top center on the lid and one on the front facing side just below the first. The prominent knobs are painted black with brown hieroglyphics. The box is decorated on each side with a rectangular black and white border of geometric shapes that frame a center rectangle. The center rectangle is painted to resemble wood grain. Surrounding it is black framing consisting of two more rows of black and cream geometric detailing. The legs run from the top of the box on the corners to the floor and are decorated with a series black and cream short, horizontal stripes interspersed by red, blue, or green rectangles. The top of the box is similarly painted as the sides, being separated into two framed squares. The box shows age and wear especially on its corners and top.]


Egyptian Mirrors

Mirrors for applying makeup were essential tools in the beauty cases of high-ranking women. Ancient Egyptian mirrors consist of a flat, round disk of polished metal attached to a handle, which could be in the shape of a plant, a column, or a female figure or decorated with Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty. Mirrors also had a symbolic character: resembling a solar disc and thus representing the sun god Ra, mirrors reflected divine, light-giving life.


Mirror with Decorated Handle

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Bronze with wood
Cat. 6426
Mirrors were indispensable beauty tools in Egypt. They were made of polished bronze, copper, or silver; glass mirrors did not appear until Roman times.

[Artwork description: Dark colored round hand mirror with a handle that is twisted at the top and then thickens as it continues down. A vertical rectangular piece behind the base of the handle. The colors have faded and blended. There are several scratches and dents.]


Melon Beads

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Faience
Provv. 510
These three large beads are made of faience, a material composed of pigmented crushed quartz or sand. The beads, decorated with a pattern resembling slices of fruit, could have been part of a necklace.

[Artwork description: These three ceramic beads are painted turquoise blue with brownish triangular shaped segments interspersed, suggesting slices of fruit The beads are graduated in size with the largest at the far left, followed by a slightly smaller orb, and a ball about a third the size of the others at the far right.]


Lotus Pendant

Tomb of Imhotep (QV46), Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Thutmose I (about 1493–1483 bce)
Gold and vitreous paste
S. 05108
This pendant was found in the tomb of Prince Imhotep, a high ranking civil and royal officer, known as a vizier, to Pharaoh Thutmose I.

[Artwork description: This small brightly colored bell-shaped necklace pendant is meant to resemble an upside-down lotus flower. It is decorated with three petal-like shapes with two dark bluish-black petals on either side of a bright gold-colored one. A vibrant turquoise triangle appears at the top of the flower and two elongated ones are inserted at the bottom on either side of the gold petal.]


Inscribed Rings

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty, (about 1539–1075 bce) Faience
6554/1 & 6554/2
A similar inscription on each ring reads “Amun-Ra, Lord of the Northern Land.” Faience rings were probably produced in molds and might have been worn as signet rings or as protective objects.

[Artwork description part 1: Turquoise ring with oval top and thick round band. Hieroglyphics are carved into the top with a circle in the center and multiple lines around it that are difficult to distinguish at this angle. Dark spots cover the turquoise surface.

Artwork description part 2: Turquoise ring with oval top and thick round band. Hieroglyphics are carved into the top with a circle in the center and multiple lines around it that are difficult to distinguish at this angle. Dark spots cover the turquoise surface.]


Ring with Face of the Goddess Hathor

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty, (about 1539–1075 bce) Faience
Cat. 6568
This ring depicts the face of the goddess Hathor, probably worn by a woman as a symbol of health and as an amulet of protection for her family.

[Artwork description: Small turquoise ring with a rectangular top and thick band. There is carving in the top, but the design isn’t distinguishable. There are two raised bumps on the right side and indents on the left. There’s a straight line that runs across the middle of the top of the ring. There are several dents, pits, and patches of discoloration.]


Statue of the Goddess Mut

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, early 19th dynasty (about 1292–1250 bce) Limestone
Cat. 769

[Artwork description: This limestone fragment of a statue shows the head and torso of a female figure staring straight ahead. The top of the fragment is broken in a diagonal line and the sides closely envelop the double crown worn by the goddess; the upper part of the crown is rounded and asymmetrical while the bottom part is a tall cylinder that flares out on both sides to accommodate the upper crown. The crown sits atop a striped wig that is positioned low on the goddess’s forehead and extends behind her ears in two long pieces that end just above her bare breasts. At the center of the wig, a rectangular piece juts out, possibly a simplified shape of a cobra. The figure’s face is oval shaped with high, rounded cheeks, almond shaped eyes and incised eyebrows that extend in a thin curved line over the eyes. Her lips are fleshy and her nose is elegant and long though slightly chipped off. She has a prominent though small chin above a graceful neck. We see the shoulders and top parts of her arms as well as her body to just below her navel. Both arms and the lower part of the torso are broken off. The left side of the statue follows the contours of the figure’s body but the right side extends behind the body in a broken line with rough texture and incised decorative lines.]


Mut—Goddess, Queen, Mother

In many ways, Mut—whose name means “mother”— embodied the ideal Egyptian woman. She was a supportive and dutiful wife, a powerful queen, and an honored goddess. This blend of qualities made her a role model for women in all spheres of Egyptian society.

This statue fragment of the goddess Mut is identifiable from the double crown she wears. Mut was once flanked by the figure of her spouse, the god Amun-Ra. The pair were the king and queen of the gods in the New Kingdom, as well as the patron deities of Thebes. Carved in low relief on the back is the person who dedicated this statue, praying to the rising sun in the shape of a scarab.


Statuette of Ahmose-Nefertari

Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty (about 1539–1292 bce)
Wood
Cat. 1389

[Artwork description: A slender woman is standing with her arms crossed at the wrist. She is carved in wood that is a warm brown color. She is looking straight ahead. Her hair frames an oval face, and she wears a conical crown. Her eyes are large and almond shaped. The pupils are round and black and fill most of the eye area. She has black eyebrows, and her eyes are outlined in black. She has a slender nose and full lips that are slightly smiling. Her hair to just below chin level is brown. From her chin to just above her breasts, the hair is straight and black. She is wearing a dress with a round neck and full sleeves that hang to her elbow. The dress fits closely to her slender hips and legs and ends bluntly at about ankle level. The wood has been cut or broken at this point.]


A Religious Idol

Ahmose-Nefertari, the first queen of the New Kingdom, who lived almost three hundred years before Queen Nefertari, was very influential in the religious sphere. She held important religious offices, which brought her great power and independent wealth. This personal income allowed her to make an unprecedented series of ritual offerings throughout Egypt. Queen Ahmose-Nefertari was arguably the most venerated woman in Egyptian history. After her death, she was made a goddess and was worshipped as a protector of the worker’s village of Deir el-Medina. She was often depicted with black skin associated with the rich Nile mud that was important to life in the Nile Valley and represented fertility and rebirth.


Anthropomorphic Unguent Jar

Probably from the Theban Necropolis
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Ceramic
Cat. 3646
Many human-shaped vases represent pregnant or lactating women and were probably served to contain milk. In this case, a realistically depicted head sits atop a vessel decorated with a floral necklace painted onto the surface. The figure has a short, rounded wig with curly hair, a style used in depictions of Nubian women. Nubia was an ancient kingdom south of Egypt that had become part of the Empire during the New Kingdom.

[Artwork description: A small reddish brown ceramic jar with the head of a woman. The body of the jar is rectangular with rounded edges and does not have arms, hands, legs, or feet. Intricate shirt details and a necklace are painted in black. Two black lines form a square, starting at the shoulders and continuing down the chest. Nine large teardrop shapes hang from the bottom black line, evenly spaced across the chest. Twelve smaller teardrop shapes pointing upward run between the two lines and also on top of the top line. This pattern continues along both sides of the square. In the middle of the square is a floral necklace. Seven flower petals point downward and are layered on the necklace. Two additional petals with horizontal lines appearing as veins hang from the chain, one to each side of the center petals. The woman has a prominent nose, almond shaped eyes with black centers, large black eyebrows, and small delicate lips. She wears a wig that has two rows of vertical rectangles resembling curls that run the full circumference of her head with an additional three rows on the sides and back of her head. The mouth of the vase opens up on the top of her head with a lip that slopes inward gently and has a smooth handle that comes out from the base of the mouth and goes down her back. There are several paint chips, scratches, and dents in the vase.]


Relief of a Female Figure

Hermopolis
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Akhenaten (about 1353–1336 bce)
Limestone
S. 18147
This carving shows the lower part of a royal woman’s face. She is depicted wearing a Nubian-style wig and a disc earring. Traces of blue paint are still visible on the wig. Nubia was an ancient kingdom south of Egypt that had become part of the Empire during the New Kingdom.

[No artwork description.]


Hairpin

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Bronze
Cat. 6341
Hairpins were widely used to hold curls or other elaborate hairstyles in place.

[Artwork description: Long, thin hair pin. The long, mostly flat hair pin comes to a point at the end and has a round top that resembles a mushroom. The pin is mostly green with spots of darker green and brown. The surface is rough and covered with pits, scrapes, and dents.]


Egyptian Hairstyles

Many of Egypt’s elite shaved their heads and wore elaborate wigs of human hair made of several layers of braids. Those unable to afford such luxury wore less realistic wigs made of date palm fibers. Female wig styles changed more rapidly than fashions in clothing or jewelry, moving from plain styles in the Old Kingdom to longer and more elaborately braided styles during the New Kingdom.


Egyptian Vessels

In ancient Egypt, ceramic vessels were used for both domestic and ritual purposes. Plain pottery jars were used for everyday storage of a range of liquids. They were included in tombs for the same purpose, providing provisions to the deceased in the afterlife. Vessels with painted decoration may have served a cultic function, perhaps during temple celebrations or funerary rituals.

Carved and polished vessels made of Egyptian alabaster were expensive and sought after as status symbols. They often contained luxury items used in daily life, such as perfume or ointments, and were part of the funerary goods found in the tombs of wealthy families.


Small Glass Vases

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Blue glass
Cat. 3403 & 3404
Glass was a material reserved for luxury objects. Small vases like these, decorated with a white and yellow wave pattern, typically contained perfume or ointment that was produced in Egypt and traded all around the Mediterranean.

[Artwork description part 1: Blue vase 3 ⅛ x 2 ¾ inches. The deep blue vase is short and round with a smaller cylindrical top. The base has a design of four white lines between two yellow lines. They start at circles near the top of the vase and scoop down near the bottom. Handles stretch out from the base in the same pattern. The top of the vase is broken and has a painted pattern of white and yellow lines running in a triangular pattern. There are four white lines and three yellow lines visible.

Artwork description part 2: Deep blue jar or vase. The bottom resembles a wine glass, a large flat circle with a short cylinder on top. The jar is smaller on the bottom, larger on the top, and then becomes smaller at the neck. It is decorated with bright yellow, white, and turquoise lines in a scooped pattern that resembles waves. There are larger scoops on one part. There are two broken handles coming out from the side.]


Cosmetic Pot

Excavation site unknown
First Millennium bce
Glazed steatite
Cat. 3357
This delicate pot’s deep blue-green color imitates turquoise, a prized stone imported from the Sinai. The artisan carved the decoration out of soapstone, then fired it with a layer of copper-based glaze, giving it a glassy surface.

[No artwork description.]


Composed Cosmetic Vase

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Egyptian alabaster
Cat. 6233
This object served a dual purpose. The two tall tubes on one side were used to store kohl, while the small, pearshaped jar on the other side was intended to store creams or ointments. The connector between them has a hole for holding a makeup applicator.

[Artwork description: Light tan alabaster composite cosmetic vase with a double tubular kohl container. The base is shaped like a small foot stool – rectangular with four short legs. A pear shaped jar for ointment stands on the top left of the base and is connected by a thin layer of alabaster to the two tubular kohl containers which stand side by side, connected in the middle with a small knob protruding out from near the top of them. The thin layer connecting the jar and kohl containers has a hole for holding a makeup applicator. The lip of the jar is missing. The edges of the legs, top of the base, and top edges of the jar and the containers have dark brown and black specks.]


Unguent Vase

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Egyptian alabaster
Cat. 3279
Small, pear-shaped vases like this usually contained perfume or ointments. They were part of the funerary goods found in the tombs of wealthy families.

[No artwork description.]


Unguent Vase

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Serpentinite
Cat. 3335
This stone vase once held a precious unguent (a salve or ointment). Creams or unguents made with vegetable oil or animal fat were scented with extracts of flowers and plants. These creams softened, cleansed, and perfumed the skin.

[No artwork description.]


The Importance of Cosmetics

As early as Predynastic times, Egyptians ground minerals on stone palettes to produce makeup powders. Cosmetics quickly became not just a luxury but a necessity for daily life—and for the afterlife. Ordinary men and women were buried with simple cosmetic palettes and blocks of pigment, while members of the nobility were buried with elaborate toilette sets, demonstrating the value their owners placed on cosmetics.


Precious Perfumes

Intended for daily and ritual use, perfumes were solid or oily compounds. The “perfumer priests” ground all kinds of precious fragrant ingredients—henna, spices and herbs (cinnamon, mint, saffron), irises, blue lotuses, water or rose lilies, citrus fruits, sandalwood, resins (myrrh, pine, frankincense)—and combined them with vegetable oils and animal fat. Perfumed creams and unguents (ointments) softened, perfumed, and cleansed the skin. Small vases made from precious materials such as alabaster, glass, and faience contained perfumes and ointments. They were part of the luxury items of the elite, and often included as part of the funerary goods found in the tombs of wealthy families.


 

Queen Nefertari’s Egypt » Women In Egypt