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Posted on July 12th, 2012, by

Traditionally, the concept of death was very important to ancient Egyptian. They paid a lot of attention to the preparation to death and believed in the afterlife. This was one of the reasons for their profound attention to the surrounding of a dead person and his/her coffin. In such a situation, it is quite natural that coffins, especially those of the Egyptian royal families and aristocracy, were created rather as object of art than ordinary coffins. In this respect, the coffin of Isis-Weret is particularly noteworthy because it may be viewed as an example of coffi iconography of the 7th 6th cc. BC.

On analyzing the coffin of Isis-Weret, it is primarily necessary to briefly dwell upon its origin. In fact, this coffin was found in the Valley of Kings and specialists defied the date of the creation of this coffin around 664-525 BC. The coffin is created of the carved, gessoed and pained wood that was the traditional material for ancient Egyptian coffins. The coffin is covered by the lid on which the face of the dead person is painted. The chest part of the coffin is covered by various decorations while the body of the coffin contains the depiction of gods, it is decorated with inscriptions. The representation of god is very important because they were supposed to protect the dead person on the journey to the next world. In the center of the coffin is depicted the god Horus, who was the god of sky in the ancient Egyptian mythology. In fact, this god is placed in the center of the coffin intentionally because Horus was one of the most ancient gods of Egypt and one of the most honored gods. Ancient Egyptians believed that this god, as well as other presented in the coffin would protect the dead person (Morenz, 169). At the same time, it is necessary to underline that Horus is apparently the most important and significant deity depicted in the coffin. This conclusion may be made not only because of his placement in the center of the coffin but also because his image is consistently larger than all the other deities and images depicted in the coffin. In ancient Egypt the size of images was very important because it signified the position of a person in the social hierarchy or the position of a god in Egyptian religious system.

The background color of the coffin is yellow and the coffin covered with quite bright images that indicate to the fact that the coffin is made in a traditional style, since such a trend became particularly strong in the epoch of the New Kingdom, especially during the 19th and 20th dynasty. In such a way, the creator of the coffin attempted to make it more vivid and picturesque. The purpose of such a decoration and painting of the coffin is quite obvious. Ancient Egyptians expected to live a better afterlife than they did it during their lifetime. Thus, they needed to be surrounded with objects that they could need, while the decorations should please and entertain them in the afterlife.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the coffin of Isis-Weter is quite different from the traditional coffins of ancient Egypt of the 19th and 20th dynasty because, along with the traditional coloring and the presence of such gods as Horus, the decoration of the coffin is consistently more diverse and represents a variety of gods, made in the anthropoid form that indicates to the approximate date of the creation of the coffin, which may be defined as 7-6th cc. BC.  In such a way, the coffin combines some traditional elements and incorporates new trends that were typical to the epoch of the creation of the coffin.

In fact, the new trends that appeared in the creation of coffins actually were quite different from old traditions because of the new trends in art and the evolution of the attitude of Egyptian people to coffins, which became more accessible to Egyptian people than they used to be that naturally lead to the appearance of new elements and change of colors.

In this respect, it is necessary to dwell upon the development of the iconography of coffins in ancient Egypt. Initially, the coffins appeared during the 3rd dynasty and some of them were made of stone, which was quite unusual compared to the later coffins which were mainly made of wood. The first royal coffins were very plain had a flat cover. Gradually, portraits and paintings started to appear on the royal coffins which were made of wood, though such paintings could be found on the earlier coffins of ordinary people. As a rule, these paintings symbolized things the deceases wished to take with him/her in the afterlife. During the Middle Kingdom Egyptian coffins became relatively homogeneous, though Upper Egyptian styles were more variable. Remarkably, the Lower Egyptian coffins had false door through which the deceased could step out into the afterlife. At this epoch the image of Osiris appears on Egyptian coffins on their East side and gradually other major deities, such as Anubis, appear accompanying the deceased to the afterlife and protecting him from evil forces. During the 11th dynasty the frieze of objects appeared on the west side of the coffin and, as a rule, these were objects from the everyday life of the dead person. In fact, the coffins were quite diverse and, in spite of certain unification of style, there remained significant differences between coffins made in different parts of Egypt and at different epochs.

The anthropoid coffin became standard during the Second Intermediate period. These coffins provided the image of the deceased which was quite a new trend in the creation and decoration of coffins. During the 18th dynasty, anthropoid coffins were first painted into white color with crisscrossed bands imitating mummy wrappings (Tiradritti, 133). The sides of coffins were often painted with the same scenes found in the tomb. However, approximately at the same period coffins, especially in non-royal burials, had a black background. During the New Kingdom, the appearance of many rich people stimulated the creation of multiple coffins. In the period of the rule of the 19th and 20th dynasties the black background was changed for yellow and brightly painted (Tiradritti, 198).

During the 21st dynasty, the polychrome scenes appeared on the coffins, while the themes represented were significantly expanded, while the background color varied consistently and it was not obligatory yellow. The political chaos during the Lebanon period generated the diversity of forms and decoration motives (Tiradritti, 312). The later epoch, the 7-8th cc. BC, was characterized by more crude coffins because of the lack of skillful craftsmen.

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