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Mummy, Coffin and Cartonnage of Lady Teshat:


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
This mummy cartonnage and coffin of a young girl named Teshat are products of the Egyptian belief in an afterlife. Each person was thought to possess a ka, a spirit which survived death. The ka could live on after death only if it could reunite with the body of the deceased in the afterworld. To facilitate this, it was necessary to preserve the body and make it easily identifiable. This led to the elaborate process of mummification.

In order to provide the ka with the most pleasant possible living quarters for eternity, wealthy families often had the interior walls and ceilings of their tombs decorated with paintings and stone reliefs picturing a variety of everyday scenes and routine activities that reveal much about contemporary Egyptian life. The coffin was also surrounded by an elaborate array of grave-goods, including food, furniture and clothing, intended to provide for the ka 's essential needs in the afterlife. These sometimes included wooden figurines of offering-bearers and other servants; wooden model boats enabled the deceased to make the ritual voyage to Abydos, the cult center of Osiris, by magical proxy.

Ceremonials were performed at burial in the belief that they magically brought to life the deceased as well as the grave goods; they also activated the wall paintings and ritual prayers decorating the coffin and cartonnage.

Notice that this cartonnage is divided into registers which underline the regularity and order of Egyptian society. In addition, notice how most of the scenes on the left side are duplicated on the right side, emphasizing the Egyptian love of balance and symmetry as well as their concern to depict the deceased as often as possible. These duplicate images of the deceased were like health insurance. In case something should happen to one of the images, the other would remain.
Teshat was 15 years old when she died. She was entitled to this elaborate mummification because her father was the Treasurer of the Temple of Amon, whose priests chose and installed Pharaohs. (In fact, at this time the priests of Amon were so wealthy and powerful that the Pharaoh could only maintain his position with their consent. Her father therefore held a most prestigious position.) At the time of her death, she was married and a "lady of the house," a member of a harem. Her life must have been fairly leisurely. Many Egyptian women during this time experienced great social freedom including the ability to own property, to invest in businesses, and to learn to read and write.

X-rays reveal that Lady Teshat has no jewelry or amulets, but the presence of an opaque object in the area of her left breast suggests the inclusion of a wrapped heart or a scarab positioned there to replace her heart, which would have been removed during the mummification process.

The X-rays also reveal that an additional skull was placed between Teshat's legs before mummification. This is certainly unusual, and we can only speculate why it is there. It is possible that an embalmer could have made a mistake in an earlier mummification and included the skull here to cover up his mistake. It is impossible to know whether broken bones seen in the x-ray (including crushed ribs and a broken left arm) were sustained before or after Teshat's death.

The cartonnage surrounding the wrapped mummy of Lady Teshat is made of plastered linen which was then painted in flat colors. An analysis of the pigments done by conservation services (see whole report in docent file) yielded the following results:
  1. Red — iron oxide
  2. White — gypsum; calcium carbonate (chalk)
  3. Green — green earth (terra verte)
  4. Blue — Egyptian blue
  5. Black — moderately coarse like bone or Ivory Black
The white fill material (which was applied over the face on the coffin prior to painting to give the wooden surface the proper facial shape) is gypsum with a large amount of quartz.

The face on the cartonnage has been rendered fairly naturalistically, although it is not meant to be "portraiture" in the strict sense of the word. Rather, the facial characteristics have been created in a stylized and idealized manner to symbolize eternal youth. It is clear that the "portrait" was supposed to be recognizable to the ka or spirit of the deceased, but an Egyptian portrait of any given time period bore certain standardized features and tended to resemble the king then in power.

The face is surmounted by a wig, which is dressed with a stylized, multicolored headdress made up of green, white, and light blue pendants divided by bands of vertical green, yellow, and red pigment. The headdress is completed by two finials capping the ends of two braids which have been rendered in a yellow pigment to simulate gold. At the neck of the cartonnage is a stylized funeral collar which is painted in a style and treatment similar to that of the headdress. This collar is included on the cartonnage as a symbolic reminder of those that were actually stitched to the mummy cloths in earlier periods. In the center of this collar is an inset with a depiction of the goddess Maat (goddess of truth, justice, righteousness, etc.) who wears a feather (a glyph for her name, and identical with the feather against which the heart of the deceased was weighed in judgment) and holds the symbol or sign for life, the ankh. The goddess is here depicted seated in the customary way.

Below is a detailed description of the images on the cartonnage (see the diagram on page 23).

A. Maat, the winged goddess of truth, kneeling and crowned by a sun disk and feather and holding an ankh.

B. Horus Behdety (or Horus of Edfu, a form of the Horus falcon as a son of Ra). This form of the Horus falcon depicts Horus in the shape of a winged sun disk and is related to a myth in which Horus assumes this shape in order to fly into the sky and attack the enemies of Ra. It also seems connected with the Horus-Set myths. The central sun disk is further flanked by uraeus serpents which were supposed to spit forth venom to protect the individual concerned from malevolent powers. Thus, the iconography of this piece is one of protective power-the power of the sun combined with the protective power of the uraeus serpent.

C. Osiris, god of the underworld and judge of the dead, is
depicted seated upon a throne. His skin is green like vegetation (an Egyptian convention for representing the deceased based on their belief in renewal following death in this life). He wears a mummiform red garment and the red crown of the Delta (Lower Egypt). He also wears the false beard (a symbol of nobility), the Menyat (a counterpoise to offset the weight of a necklace, often included in funerary settings), and a stole-like garment which has been found on mummies of the third intermediate period and probably bore a ritual significance. The Osiris depicted on the right side holds a flail, while the Osiris on the left (viewer's left) has both crook and flail (symbols of authority). The figure on the left also has an object before him (an offering?).

D. A shrine or facade upon which stand the sons of Horus. Because it was their duty to protect the four organs which were removed from the body during mummification, they were regularly represented on the storage (canopic) jars for these parts. From the viewer's left to right, they are:

  1. jackal-headed Duamtef-protects the stomach
  2. hawk-headed Qebehsenuf-protects the intestines
  3. dog-headed Hapy-protects the lungs
  4. human-headed Imset-protects the liver
Each of these four bear a stole-like garment (probably a kni) in their hands which probably serves a ritual purpose (as an offering?).

E. Osiris, wearing the typical plumed white crown of upper Egypt, false beard, mummiform costume, and menyat, bears the crook and flail and is seated upon a throne. Before him a female figure crowned by a sun disk and also green in skin color offers him an udjat (eye). The figure is clothed in a red garment of Old Kingdom style and wears a collar, bracelets, and anklets. Behind this figure is a composite beast (a winged serpent) seated on a throne, crowned by a sun disk, and grasping the uas scepter, a symbol of dominion and power.

F. The barque (boat or small ship) of Ra or Horus resting upon a shrine or facade and containing a falcon deity.

G. A nome (province) standard or temple standard surmounted by a ram [a representation of Khnum (?) or the sacred ram of Mendes (?)] stands before a composite beast (a lion headed, winged serpent) seated upon a throne. The composite beast holds the uas scepter ( ) and the symbols of life ( ) and eternity ( )—this latter is also rendered "infinity." This figure is crowned by the sun disk and uraeus serpent.

H. Osiris, again in mummiform shape wearing a collar and the stole-like garment as in C, raises himself upon a bier which is decorated with the head, tail, and paws of a lion. Below this bier are a series of crowns. They are from the viewer's left to right:

  1. the blue war crown
  2. the afnet crown
  3. the red crown of Lower Egypt
  4. the white crown of Upper Egypt
The whole scene takes place within an architectural setting. Note: at top of scene.

I. A falcon seated upon a throne, crowned with sun disk and uraeus serpent with an udjat before him. The glyphs identify him as "Horus of Edfu."

J. Two female figures with green flesh color wearing garments identical to those worn by the female figures in E, red hair bands, collars, armlets, and bracelets kneel upon throne-like objects, supporting and making an offering to a djed, a symbol of Osiris' backbone, which means stability, continuity, and eternity. This djed is crowned by the sun disk and feathered crown normally associated with Amon.

Behind these figures is a composite beast (a winged serpent as in E) seated upon a throne and bearing the uas scepter and the symbol for eternity. This beast is also crowned by the sun disk.

K. On the right (viewer's) of the djed (see L) is a standing jackal-headed figure flanking the base of the djed and holding a flail. To the left is a dog-headed figure who similarly supports the djed and holds a flail. Perhaps these two may be identified with the two sons of Horus, Duamutef, and Hapy. The two glyphs, " " and " ", are before the djed and bear the meaning, "lord of the underworld." Behind these figures and glyphs appears a winged serpent with four human (?) legs, wearing the white crown with plumes and the beard, and standing upon an oval form in which lies a mummy. An object or glyph is above the mummy on the right side of the cartonnage. This same sign also appears above the rising Osiris in H. (Possible meaning: "awakening.")

L. The Djed, symbolic of the backbone of Osiris, and meaning "stability."

M. A mummiform falcon wearing the menyat, collar, and the stole-like garment found on Osiris in E. He is flanked by mummiform serpents and by two jackals seated upon thrones (or shrines or facades). They are identified as Upuat (Wepawet) which is a wolf deity whose name means "Opener of the Ways" and who bears strong funereal significance.

N. Udjat, the eye of Horus.

O. The winged goddess Maat or truth (see above also) kneeling and crowned by a sun disk and feather. She wears a red garment, collar, armlets, bracelets, and red hair band as do the female figures in J and E. She is flanked by udjats and by four seated mummiform deities. All hold a cloth (as do the figures in E, the four sons of Horus in D. Perhaps these are the kni garments). Viewer's left to right, there are:

  1. lion-headed figure crowned with two feathers (Renenet?)
  2. serpent-headed figure crowned with two feathers
  3. cow-headed figure holding two knives (Hathor?)
All of these figures wear collars, bracelets, wigs, and the stole-like garment (as Osiris in E). Above them is an inscription reading, "Sekhmet, leader of heaven," and another of uncertain meaning. Since the Sekhmet inscription is placed above the serpent-cow group and as Sekhmet is a lion-headed goddess, it is probable that the inscriptions have been mixed and that the lion-headed goddess to be seen on the extreme left is most likely to be identified as Sekhmet.

P. The uncertain inscription mentioned above.

Q. Division bands which divide the field into registers.

The hieroglyphic inscriptions on the coffin have been transcribed as follows:

"An offering which the king gives of Re-Harakhati; Atum, Lord of the Two Lands, the Heliopolite; Ptah-Sekar-Osiris, Lord of the Necropolis; Anubis, Lord of Ta-jeser(1) Osiris, Presider over the Westerners (2), Good God, Lord of Abydos, Lord of Eternity, King of Gods, Wenenofre (3), Ruler of Eternity - may they grant offerings and food, beef, fowl, clothing for the ka of the Osiris, the August Lady of the House, Teshat, Daughter of the Doorkeeper of the Gold-House of Amon, Jehutihotpe, beatified."

  1. "The Brilliant land", euphemistic for the Acropolis.
  2. The dead, buried in the western Acropolis.
  3. Not a separate divinity, but an epithet of Osiris; meaning uncertain.
The inscriptions on the two sides are alike in content and written symmetrically:
"An offering which the king gives of Osiris, Presider over the Westerners, Great and Good God, Lord of Abydos, Lord of Eternity - may he grant offerings and food, beef, fowl, clothing for Osiris, the August Lady of the House, Teshat, Daughter of the Door-Keeper of the Gold-House of Amon, Jehutihotpe, beatified."
Mummification took 70 days. Each step was coordinated with relevant priestly ceremonies and was watched over by Anubis, the god of mummification.
  1. The brain was removed through the nostrils by metal probes and hooks and was discarded. Generally, the skull was then filled with resin, sawdust, or resin-soaked linen.
  2. An incision was made in the left side of the body with a sharp stone. The liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines were then removed and dried in natron [a naturally-occurring salt which is a mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and either sodium chloride (common salt), or sodium sulfate] for 40 days. The organs were then dressed with scented oil and molten resin, wrapped with linen into neat bundles, and placed in separate jars, the canopic jars, which were protected by particular divinities.
  3. The heart was used to judge the deceased in the afterworld so it was wrapped and returned to the body.
  4. The abdomen and chest cavity were then rinsed out with spices and palm wine and packed with temporary stuffing (rags, straw, dried grass, or anything else that was handy) to prevent disfigurement.
  5. Next came preservation of the body itself. This was done with natron.
  6. Small parcels of natron wrapped in linen were placed inside the body; the outside was covered with loose natron or packages of linen-wrapped natron, and the body was placed on a mat or sloping board for 40 days to dry out completely.
  7. Then the stuffing was removed, the body was washed and dried, and the body cavity was refilled with linen soaked in resin. If the head cavity had not been stuffed earlier, that was also stuffed at this point.
  8. The wound in the abdomen was then closed. Sometimes it was sewn, not with stitches, but with a piece of gold foil or a tablet of beeswax bearing the symbol of the udjat eye, which was kept in place by pouring molten resin over it.
  9. The embalmers then rubbed the whole body with a lotion of juniper oil, beeswax, spice, and natron. The nose was plugged, and wads of linen were also pushed up into the sunken cheeks in an attempt to counteract the withered appearance which the drying-out caused. The eyes were pushed down into their sockets and covered with little pads of resinated linen. The eyelids were then pulled down over the pads.
  10. The embalmers painted the entire body with molten resin to toughen the skin and make it waterproof. They now went over the body with cosmetics, adding color where needed. Often they painted the face-and sometimes the whole body-with ochre: red for men and yellow for women. After this, they put on any jewelry with which the dead person was to be buried.
  11. Finally, the body was wrapped in 20 or more layers of linen bandages. This was accompanied by prayers and rituals. The embalmers began by wrapping the fingers and toes separately. After each finger and toe, they went on to each limb; and when the limbs were finished, the mummy-mask was placed over the head and shoulders. Then followed one or more shrouds held in place by some bandages stretched lengthwise and across. As they wrapped the corpse, the embalmers placed various amulets and sometimes the Book of the Dead1 papyrus among the bandages. As this wrapping was done, a coating of resin was applied as a binding agent between every few layers.
  12. Then the cartonnage was added and decorated. The cartonnage consisted of strips of linen soaked in plaster which then hardened exactly like the casts used today for setting broken limbs. This was then painted in bright colors with hieroglyphs and figures of deities.
  13. A stylized portrait mask was placed over this molded face. The lower part of the mask covered the upper breast and was painted to imitate a broad, brightly-colored bead collar.
  14. When the process was completed, the dead body was borne down the Nile River in a boat.
Aldred, Cyril, Art of Ancient Egypt.

Hayes, The Scepter of Egypt, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1959.

Martin, Richard A., Mummies, Field Museum of Natural History.

When using on tours, focus on what visitors can see. Mummification procedures should only be discussed on specialized tours, such as Egyptian tour workshops.

Use on the following tours:

  • Safari
    Particularly emphasize the part-animal and part-human gods and the protective monsters.
  • How Was It Made?
    Discuss the mummification process and the use of natural materials (i.e., linen from flax, natron, and paints from natural minerals).
  • Art of the Ancient Mediterranean or Art of the Ancient World
    As representative of Egyptian culture.
  • Women and Art
    A woman of rank was entitled to the same burial rites as a man of equal status.
  • Spirituality and Art
    As an illustration of Egyptian religious beliefs and practices.
  • Death and Dying
    An example of a culture that viewed death as a continuation of life on earth.
  1. The Book of the Dead contained prayers and drawings to help the dead pass the many tests they needed to undergo in the afterlife before they could live eternally.
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Source: Docent Manual entry for <i>Mummy, Coffin and Cartonnage of Lady Teshat,</i> The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Education Division (1998).
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009