Headrest with Birth Gods on Base and Neck Support
Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
On View: Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
Wood, Bone, and Ivory in the New Kingdom
Egyptian artists were resourceful in overcoming the problems of working with difficult materials to make the objects seen here.
Egyptian trees, such as acacia, sycamore, and tamarisk, are too small to produce large planks. Carpenters working with native woods thus had to develop complicated joinery techniques to build large objects like coffins and furniture. For expensive luxury items they used timbers such as ebony, cedar, and juniper, imported from Nubia and Punt to the south and Syria and Lebanon to the northeast. Ancient craftsmen used tools that would be familiar to modern carpenters, including adzes, chisels, reamers, and saws. Many ancient Egyptian wooden objects left in tombs as funerary offerings have survived remarkably well. Undisturbed tombs maintain extremely stable climatic conditions, slowing the effects of repeated expansion and contraction that are so damaging to wood. Egypt’s relatively dry climate also discourages the growth of mold, insects, and microorganisms that feed on wood.
Ancient Egyptian ivory used for carving came from the tusks of elephants and hippopotami. Elephants had probably disappeared from Egypt by the end of the Predynastic Period (circa 3100 B.C.E.), so their ivory had to be imported from Nubia. Hippopotami remained common in the lower Nile Valley until the seventeenth century C.E. Some antiquities mistakenly said to be made of ivory are actually made of the bones or antlers of cattle, sheep, goats, and antelopes. Egyptians used the often ideally shaped leg bones of these animals to create the handles of tools or weapons.
ca. 1390-1292 B.C.E.
5 11/16 x 10 1/16 in. (14.5 x 25.5 cm) (show scale)
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
Wooden headrest made of four piece of wood; top, two pieces in supporting pillar, and base. The pieces are pegged and tenoned together. At either end of the base are two crudely executed relief representations of Bes. At one end he holds plants; at the opposite end of the base he is represented holding snakes. Busts of Bes, in relief, decorate the undersides of the tips of the top piece, and in each case he holds a papayrus-scepter the stem of which descend down the support.
Condition: Numerous cracks and chips; reliefs seem worn.
Headrest with Birth Gods on Base and Neck Support, ca. 1390-1292 B.C.E. Wood, 5 11/16 x 10 1/16 in. (14.5 x 25.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.434E. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 37.434E_NegA_SL4.jpg)
overall, unedited master file, 37.434E_NegA_SL4.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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