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Relief from the Tomb of Khnumti 1 (work of art)

Artwork Info

Old Kingdom, Dynasty VI, circa 2345-2184 B.C.E.
Egyptian (possibly from Saqqara)
Old Kingdom, Dynasty VI-circa 2345-2184 B.C.E.
23 7/8 x 19 5/8 x 1 in.
(60.6 x 49.8 x 2.5 cm)
Sculpture, Stone


Gift of the James G. Hanes Memorial Fund

Ancient Egyptian


These reliefs from a tomb chapel symbolically provide for the needs of the deceased through all eternity. In one scene (G.72.2.1), Khnumti, identified by an inscription as a lector priest (one who reads sacred texts for religious observances), is seated before a table on which stand twelve loaves of bread. Beneath it sit a variety of vessels and a bundle of leeks. Khnumti wears a kilt and a broad collar on which floral details would have been painted. In conformity with Egyptian sculptural practice, Khnumti’s head, arms, and legs are seen in profile, while his eye, shoulder, and torso are shown frontally.

The hieroglyphic text above Khnumti’s head promises him bread, beer, cattle, fowl, alabaster, and linen, and the line of repeated plant symbols below indicates thousands of these provisions. Columns of text in sunken relief below the broken top edge extend a menu of offerings. This list is invoked by the five officials visible at the upper left, three of whom wear sashes identifying them as lector priests like Khnumti. The first figure kneels before a low offering table; the last walks away from the scene, dragging a herbal broom to clean and perfume the chamber in final preparation of the tomb for Khnumti’s afterlife.

The second relief from the same tomb was originally part of a panel on the opposite wall. Almost a mirror image of the other relief, its differences provide information on the technique of the ancient sculptor. The figure of Khnumti is seated in a similar pose, but in order to portray both the right arm reaching toward the table and the whole left arm with its hand holding a folded cloth, the left arm is bent awkwardly back across the chest. The area beside the table features a wealth of offerings, including fruits and vegetables, vessels, and a trussed duck. Most of these offerings are only outlined with incision, a preliminary step to removing the stone from the background to create the low raised relief seen in the more finished section of the panel. The inscription above the figural scene is striking in its unfinished state, with the marks of the chisel still visible in the background. It is tempting to suppose that the hasty execution of this panel was due to the unexpected need to prepare quickly for Khnumti’s burial.

tags: Ancient Egypt, communication, cycle, interdependence, ritual, survival


  • Relief from the Tomb of Khnumti 1 Stone

    Relief from the Tomb of Khnumti 1