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HOME : Egyptian Antiquities : Archive : Egyptian New Kingdom Alabaster Canopic Jar Depicting Imsety
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Egyptian New Kingdom Alabaster Canopic Jar Depicting Imsety - X.0214
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 1539 BC to 1295 BC
Dimensions: 18.5" (47.0cm) high
Collection: Egyptian
Medium: Stone

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: Great Britain
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The preservation of the physical remains of the deceased was an essential aspect of Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs. During the mummification process, an incision was made on the side of the body, through which all of the major organs were removed. In the earliest tombs, the organs were simply wrapped in cloth and placed in small niches carved into the walls of the structure. However, by as early as the 4th Dynasty, the organs were placed in simple stone or pottery canopic jars featuring unadorned, flat or slightly domed lids. Although the First Intermediate Period were chaotic times in Egyptian history, it represented an age of innovation for arts relating to the canopic rites. For the first time, the jar lids took on the form of human and animal heads. Later, by the end of the Middle Kingdom, canopic equipment had achieved classic standard that we identify the term with today.

Here, we find an outer stone chest, associated with the stone sarcophagus, and an inner wooden chest representing the coffin and divided into four sections. These four sections held four separate jars, complete with texts, meant to hold the four major organs. These four human organs were identified with the four sons of Horus, each of whom was referred to as a genius. They included the liver, identified with the genius Imsety; the lungs, identified with Hapy; the stomach, identified with Duamutef; and the intestines, associated with Kebehsenuef. Yet it was not until the 18th Dynasty, when this work was carved, that images of these four genii became the focus of the decorative scheme and the lids of the canopic jars were modeled after their heads. Imsety was recognizable as a human, while Hapy took the form of a baboon, Duamutef that of a jackal, and Kebehsenuef that of a hawk. During this time as well, the common material out of which the jars were made broadened to include wood, pottery, cartonnage, calcite, and limestone.

This gorgeous canopic jar depicting the human- headed deity Imsety reveals how extraordinarily sophisticated such work became during the height of their evolution. When one considers how meager the first viscera containers were, the artistry of this piece seems that much more remarkable. Imsety was the deity who presided over the liver, so we can safely assume that this lid once sealed a jar holding the remnants of this major organ inside. The carving of his human head is simply stunning. His facial features are all carefully rendered, including his incised eyes, nose, and slightly smiling mouth. A standard wig crowns his head and frames his ears. While some of us may become uneasy when contemplating what was once held inside this jar, this is just a temporary reaction, for the fascinating history and astounding beauty of this piece soon occupy our thoughts and we are in awe.
- (X.0214)


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