Saturday, January 2, 2021

Priestly attire from Roman Period Egypt 1st century CE

Consisting of a wig with short, tight curls and a distinctive gilded sidelock, this priestly headdress made of cartonnage, said to have been purchased by Howard Carter and thought to have originated from Qau el-Kebir,  may have been found (and once worn) with a faux leopard-skin robe like the accompanying example. In all likelihood, a man serving as a sem-priest or Iunmutef-priest donned the headdress and cloak before carrying out a ritual that revivified a mummified body so that the deceased could live eternally.

Priests of Iunmutef were documented from the 5th dynasty (around 2350 BCE) clear up to the Greco-Roman period.  Iunmutef is a manifestation of Horus in his capacity as the “loving son” of Osiris. In this quality he appears in numerous temple scenes and in the royal tombs as a ritual provider of the ruler, whom he enlivens, deifies and renews through the opening of the mouth ritual and as a representative of a rightful ruler in various regeneration and transformation rites. Sources from the New Kingdom indicate the deity increased in importance during that period.

Most depictions of these priests suggest they wore actual leopard pelts but nearly all rare surviving examples are fashioned from painted linen. In the paintings in Tutankhamum's tomb, his advisor and successor "Ay" wears the ritual leopard robe while performing the "opening of the mouth" ceremony.  However, as Tutankhamun's successor, he wears the blue Khepresh crown rather than the cartonnage "helmet" of a typical high priest.

Priest with Leopard Skin Mantle, Egypt, Late Period, 26th Dynasty, reign of Apries, 589-570 BCE, that I photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Egyptian high priest with leopard robe and "helmet-style" headdress courtesy of (digitally enlarged).

Tomb painting of the pharaoh Tutankhamun and his successor, Ay, performing the "opening of the mouth" ceremony, New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, Egypt (PD).

“Leopard-skin” robe of painted linen of the priest, Harnedjitef, probably 1st century CE, Roman Period Egypt, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The "leopard spots" were once brightly colored rosettes of red, yellow, and blue.

Priestly headdress of painted cartonnage, 1st century CE, Roman Period Egypt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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