The beautiful mummy mask of Khonsu, son of Sennedjem

The mummy mask of Khonsu, son of Sennedjem
from the Tomb of Sennedjem – TT1 – Deir el-Medina discovery in 1886
Exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York – Accession Number: 86.1.4

I’d call it; The Origin! When I look at this Mask, I find how real is it just to show the expression of an ancient face.

By Marie Grillot with great thanks and also sincerely to Marc Chartier

via; translated from French.

This mummy mask is made of painted wood and cardboard. It represents a character with fine features, noble appearance. A magnificent wig “on the back”, textured in relief, advantageously frames her face. The finely braided hair covers most of the forehead and leaves in a gradient towards the shoulders. Two thick strands braided in a more “loose” way are brought along the neck and fall on each side in a completely balanced way. Only the lower part of the pierced ear lobe remains visible. The hairstyle is adorned with a large floral band, which blossoms in warm brown tones drawing towards red.

The face, treated in this same colour is perfectly symmetrical and rather round. The eyebrows, very long and arched, are painted black. The almond-shaped eyes are stretched, and the iris, round and black, stands out against the white of the luminous eye. The line of the eye-shadow extends to the hair. The nose, well-drawn, is of good proportions. The mouth with hemmed lips is closed.

The mummy mask of Khonsu, son of Sennedjem
from the Tomb of Sennedjem – TT1 – Deir el-Medina discovery in 1886
Exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York – Accession Number: 86.1.4

The neck is decorated with a magnificent ousekh (Usekh or Wesekh) necklace. It alternates a substantial number of rows – more or less wide – of blue, green, red pearls, all in a sumptuous and dazzling “roundness” of tones… It should be noted that during the Ramesside period, “the frame cardboard masks have changed: the rear panel has disappeared and the masks consist of a shell protecting only the head and a rounded and extended front panel “.

This 48 cm high mask, dating from the 19th dynasty, comes from the tomb of Sennedjem in Deir el-Medineh. This village, which in ancient times was called “Set Maât her imenty Ouaset” (the “Place of Maât (Truth) in the West of Thebes”) was founded at the beginning of the 18th dynasty under the reign of Thutmosis Iᵉʳ. Surrounded by high walls, extended and enlarged several times, notably under the reigns of Thutmosis III and the first Ramessides, it housed the community of artisans who worked on the excavation and decoration of the eternity homes of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. For almost 500 years, “between 40 to 120 households” lived there in stone houses covered with a palm leaf roof, also have places of worship and their own necropolis.

Deir el-Medina – Artisan Village today
In ancient times, his name was “Set Maat her imenty Waset” (the “Place of Truth to the west of Thebes”)
Photo © Marie Grillot

The tomb of Sennedjem – which will be referenced TT1 – was discovered in January 1886 by ‘gournawis’.: Indeed, “in 1886, Salam Abu Duhi, a villager from Gournah, was granted a concession in an area of ​​Deir el-Medineh close to his home. After only a few days of excavations, Salam and three of his friends made a discovery spectacular: at the bottom of a still unexplored burial well, they found a wooden door whose ancient seals were intact. Salam immediately informed Maspero, who happened to be in Luxor for his annual inspection visit. ” (Hidden treasures of Egypt, Zahi Hawass (!) ).

Gaston Maspero’s correspondence with his wife Louise (Gaston Maspero – Letters from Egypt) gives us the extraordinary “live” adventure. So the great Egyptologist wrote to her on February 2, 1886: “They come to get me to go to the mountains: a tomb that we have been working on for eight days has finally been opened. It is a virgin!

Door of the tomb of Sennedjem – TT1 Deir el-Medina
Cairo Egyptian Museum – I 27303

It is a tomb of the XXth dynasty: the wooden door is still in place, and there have already been eleven mummies. “He continued his story on February 3:” The vault is approximately 5 m long by 3 wide. It is vaulted, with a very low vault and painted in the most vivid colours; unfortunately, the paintings and texts are only extracted from the book of the dead. It was filled to the top with coffins and objects: eight adult mummies, two children’s mummies … The mummies are superb, of a beautiful red varnish with very neat representations. ”

Finally, this “family” tomb will turn out to contain twenty bodies: “Nine of them had very beautiful anthropoid coffins, single or double, finely painted and varnished. These are Sennedjem, his wife Iyneferti, his son Khonsou and his wife Tamaket, his other children Parahotep, Taashsen, Ramose, Isis and finally, a little girl named Hathor. Rich funerary furniture accompanied them. ”

Eduard Toda, with objects from the tomb of Sennedjem,
on the boat “Bulak” en route to Cairo (1886)
Toda Fund Library Museum Víctor Balaguer (Vilanova)

Eduard Toda y Güell, consul general of Spain in Egypt from 1884 to 1886, a friend of Maspero’s, was given the important task of clearing the grave. In the “Bulletin of the French Society of Egyptology” – 1988, Josep Padro reports: “In three days and with seven workers, (Toda) completely searched the tomb and carried out the transfer of its contents onboard the ‘Boulaq’, the vessel of the Antiquities service. Once the transfer was completed, (he) drew up an inventory of the funeral furniture on the boat, with the objects collected and the mummies before his eyes. Toda also took 15 photos himself in the tomb, with the technical assistance of Insinger, which are engraved after the plates which illustrate his memoir; and he copied and translated the hieroglyphic texts, with the help of (Urbain)Bouriant. ”

As for Gaston Maspero, he made a point of clarifying: “It goes without saying that we bought the fellahs half of their money: it cost us 46 guineas. Once we have chosen all that is good for the museum, the sale of mummies and superfluous objects will bring us at least 60 guineas, maybe eighty, who will go to the excavations of Luxor and the Sphinx. It will have been a good deal in all ways, good from the point of view scientific, since it gave us monuments of which we had no specimen, good from the financial point of view, since not only the objects will end up costing us nothing, but, that we will have earned enough money to practice new excavations. ”

This is how objects from the tomb which, in a way, “duplicated” were offered for sale. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which then constituted its collection of Egyptian antiquities, showed great interest.

So, among the artefacts that went to New York, was this mask, this Khonsu. It has since been exposed there under the reference 86.1.4.

Vault of the tomb of Sennedjem – TT1 Deir el-Medina
Photo © Marie Grillot

The eternity home of Sennedjem is one of those open to the public in Deir el-Medineh. It is particularly renowned for the beauty of the colourful and particularly well-preserved scenes that adorn its walls.

Marie Grillot


” Mummy Mask of Khonsu ” (MET)

Gaston Maspero, Letters from Egypt, correspondence with Louise Maspero, Elizabeth David, Seuil, 2003

” Deir al-Medina ” (IFAO)

Hidden Treasures of Egypt, Zahi Hawass

Pharaoh Artists Louvre, NMR, 2002

” Eduard Toda, pioneer of Spanish Egyptology “

” Eduard Toda i Güell “

” Details of two mummies from the former collection Toda “

” Deir el-Medina, Tomb TT1, Sennedjem “

Josep Padro, “the French Society of Egyptology Bulletin” – 1988, No. 113, pp. 32-45

” An Artisan’s Tomb in New Kingdom Egypt ,” Catharine H. Roehrig, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, october 2004

” Life Along the Nile: Three Egyptians of Ancient Thebes “: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 60, no. 1 (Summer 2002), Roehrig, Catharine H. (2002)

The tomb-builders of the pharaohs , Morris Bierbrier

” Current Research in Egyptology ” 17, Julia Chyla Karolina Rosińska-Balik, Joanna Debowska-Ludwin

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