The Met Acquires Ancient Egyptian Gilded Coffin

Gilded Coffin Lid for the Priest Nedjemankh (detail).Late Ptolemaic Period (150-50 B.C.)
Gilded Coffin Lid for the Priest Nedjemankh (detail).Late Ptolemaic Period (150-50 B.C.). Cartonnage, gold, silver, resin, glass, wood. Purchase, 2017 Benefit Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace Gift; Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest; Leona Sobel Education and The Camille M. Lownds Funds; and 2016 Benefit Fund, 2017 (2017.255b). Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

(New York, September 12, 2017)-The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that it has acquired an ancient Egyptian gilded cartonnage coffin from the first century B.C. The highly ornamented lid of the coffin is displayed prominently in the Museum's Lila Acheson Wallace Galleries for Egyptian Art (gallery 138), where it will be seen and enjoyed by millions of visitors.

"This beautiful and unusual coffin is extremely rare, and we are honored to welcome it to the Museum's collection," said Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Met. "It is an extraordinary work of art that will give our visitors the opportunity to appreciate a fascinating period of Egyptian history."
 
The mummiform coffin was inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis. The elaborately decorated surface includes scenes and texts in thick gesso relief that were intended to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit. The coffin's exterior is sheathed in gold, which - because of its permanent nature - was associated in ancient Egypt with the gods and the divinized dead. According to ancient texts, the use of gold in the coffin would have assisted the deceased being reborn in the next life.
 
Unique to this coffin are the thin sheets of silver foil on the interior of the lid, intended to protect Nedjemankh's face. To the ancient Egyptians, the precious metals gold and silver symbolized several things. On a general level, they could represent the flesh and bones of the gods, or the sun and the moon; on a more specific level, they were identified with the eyes of the cosmic deity Heryshef, whom Nedjemankh served.
 
Even more remarkably, the long inscription on the front of the coffin's lid explicitly connects gold and "fine gold" (electrum) to the flesh of the gods, the sun, and the rebirth of the deceased. The association of the inscription with the actual use of metals on the coffin is a rare - possibly unique - occurrence.
 

Officially exported from Egypt in 1971, the coffin has since resided in a private collection.  At The Met, it joins the Museum's renowned ancient Egyptian collection, one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world.

 

About The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met presents over 5,000 years of art from around the world for everyone to experience and enjoy. The Museum lives in three iconic sites in New York City—The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters. Millions of people also take part in The Met experience online.
 
Since it was founded in 1870, The Met has always aspired to be more than a treasury of rare and beautiful objects. Every day, art comes alive in the Museum's galleries and through its exhibitions and events, revealing both new ideas and unexpected connections across time and across cultures.
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