Tag Archives: Isis

Object Biography 29: A gilded statuette of Osiris (acc. no 4849)

Despite the loss of the head of this figure, its identity is easily discernible as Osiris, the god of rebirth and regeneration. Unlike the other commonly shrouded gods like Ptah and Khonsu, the arm positions indicate the figure was intended – perhaps only conceptually – to hold the crook and flail: elements of rulership that are commonly associated with Osiris. His tall atef-crown (of which only the streamers running down the neck and back remain) would also have made the head susceptible to breakage, thus even without an identifying inscription, it is clear that this gilded figurine represents Osiris.

Acc. no. 4849, from Giza. H. 23.8 cm. Photo by Julia Thorne/Tetisheri

The use of gold leaf to cover the statuette indicates not that this was a cult image – used as a focal point of rituals – but that it was a particularly rich version of a common object type: a votive image, given as a gift for the gods in petition, prayer or thanks. Untarnishable gold was viewed as the flesh of the gods, an appropriate material for objects the effected divine presence. The appearance of finely etched kneeling figures with an offering table between them at the front of the base further assert this votive function, and the form of this small composition – which seems to consciously evoke much earlier styles – is an indication of the date of this piece, in the Saite era – or Twenty-sixth Dynasty.

Detail of side of plinth, with djed and tyet symbols. Photo: Julia Thorne/Tetisheri

An interesting feature of religious culture in Egypt during the First Millennium BCE was the growth and expansion in the popular cult of the god Osiris. This figurine was found by workmen excavating for Flinders Petrie in 1906 at Giza, a site that was constantly reinterpreted after the construction of the great pyramids. The cult of Osiris – and of his wife Isis – was very significant at Giza in the Late Period. The presence of both ‘djed’ and ‘tyet’ symbols, motifs of Osiris and Isis respectively, on the base of the statuette emphasise their connection.

Eastern side of queens’ pyramids at Giza, showing Late Period temple of Isis. Photo: MFA Boston/Digital Giza.

On the eastern side of the small pyramid of one of Khufu’s wives, Queen Henutsen, developed a chapel to the goddess Isis, which became an active site of elite devotion in the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty and later. A monumental stone tablet – called the Inventory Stela – was discovered in the vicinity of this chapel, listing sacred images both within the temple and elsewhere at the site, including the great Sphinx. One entry reads, ‘Osiris. Gilded wood. Eyes inlaid’ – a description of the sort of object now in Manchester Museum.

This item is part of Manchester Museum’s ‘To Have and To Heal’ project, an attempt to use ancient Egyptian material culture – visualised through the photography of Julia Thorne – to address big questions in the post-pandemic world while Manchester Museum is closed (August 2021-late 2022) to complete its capital building project. Find out more at the website: https://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk or on social media @McrMuseum @EgyptMcr.

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Texts in translation #12: The stela of the God’s Wife, Princess Isis (Acc. no. 1781)

G2.07_Guide_IsisThis finely wrought limestone slab likely once formed the upper part (the curved ‘lunette’) of a larger stela commemorating the daughter of King Ramesses VI (c. 1143-1136 BC), a princess named Iset – or Isis. The stela was excavated by Flinders Petrie at the site of Coptos.

Central text

The Osiris, King, Lord of the Two Lands, Neb-Maat-Re Mery-Amun, Son of Re, Ramesses, Heka-Iunu, Father of the God’s Wife of Amun, The Divine Adoratrice Isis.

Above the figure of Re-Horakhty (on the left):

Re-Horakhty, by whose shining all is illuminated, Great God, Ruler of Eternity.

Above the scene of the princess shaking a sistrum and censing:

I play the sistrum before your fair face, gold is in front of you. May you allow [me] to see the sunrise, the Osiris, the Hereditary Princess, great of favours, the God’s Wife of Amun, the King’s Daughter, the God’s Adoratrice Isis, true of voice.

Behind the princess:

Her mother, the Great Royal Wife, whom he loves, the Lady of the Two Lands, Nub-khesbed, true of voice.

Above the figure of Osiris (on the right):

Osiris, who awakens complete, Lord of the Sacred Land, Great God, Chief of Silence

Above the scene of the princess pouring liquid over a table of offerings:

Making a libation to Osiris, Lord of Eternity. May you allow me to receive offerings that go out upon your offering tables, consisting of everything good and pure for the Osiris, the God’s Wife of Amun, the King’s Daughter, Lady of the Two Lands, the Divine Adoratrice, Isis, true of voice.

Behind the princess:

Her father, the king, Lord of the Two Lands, Neb-Maat-Re Mery-Amun, Son of Re, Ramesses, Heka-Iunu […].

Isis stela line

The scene makes an important religious statement, showing two deities as different aspects of the sun god – representing both night (Osiris) and day (Re-Horakhty). As is typical of many such scenes, the text captions and reinforces what is depicted in figural scenes. Isis performs rituals with a rattle, or sistrum, burns incense and pours libations. These were important aspects of the role of the ‘God’s Wife’, as chief ritualist who entertained the god. In some sense, the ‘God’s Wife’ (or ‘God’s Adoratice’ or ‘God’s Hand’) was a sexual companion for the god Amun.

This position was an important religious and political one, because the princess was a representative of her father the king at Karnak – when the Pharaoh was largely based in the Delta at this period. From recent excavations of chapels at Dra Abu el-Naga on the West Bank at Thebes, it seems the office of God’s Wife and of High Priest were closely linked at this time.

The stela’s inscription is important in making explicit the parentage of Isis, which has been used by Egyptologists to help build a picture of royal family relationships in the Twentieth Dynasty.

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