This beautiful Canopic Jar comes from the Ramesside period (1292 to 1069 BC) named after the founder of the 19th the dynasty, Ramesses I which was part of the New Kingdom of Egypt between the 16–11th Centuries BC., when Ancient Egypt was at its most powerful and prosperous.
Canopic Jars were used to house the internal organs of a deceased person once they had been mummified, in order that they may be reunited with them in the after life. They chiefly held the lungs, liver, stomach and intestines which would be removed shortly after death in a ritual part of the mummification process, and placed in a canopic jar that were decorated with each organ’s associated protective god or goddess.
This jar is carved form calcite – a hard semi-translucent stone that has been expertly cut and polished in to this harmonious fluted shape, and inscribed with four vertical rows of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that read from right to left:
“Dd-mdw in srqt: sxn.n awy(i)
Hr ntt im.(i) sTp (i) sA Hr-ntt im(i) sTp.(i)
sA Hr qbH-snw.f wsir
sS0nsw imy-rA-pr smn-tAwy mAa-xrw”
“Recitation by Selkis: My arms have embraced
that which is in me, that I might protect that which is in me, that I might pro-
tect Kebeh-senuef (of) the Osiris,
the King’s Scribe and Steward (Overseer of the House) Semen-tawy, Justified.”
This jar held the intestines of an Ancient Egpytian powerful official named Semen-Tawy. The Son of Horus referred to is Qebeh-senuef or Kebeh-senuef, and the goddess, who speaks in first person in the inscription is Selkis, the scorpion goddess who presides over the fertility, magic and healing.
The name present on the canopic jar; Semen-Tawy, can be found in many sources from the New Kingdom and is also present on objects in the British Museum, Egyptian Museum of Berlin and the Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels, which may also have belonged to him as discussed in the full report on this object by the Ancient Egyptian Department of the University of Toronto.
Adding to the alluring history of this object is the fact that during the Victorian era when there was a fashion for all things Ancient Egyptian, this jar was used as a centre piece table lamp in a private residence; combining history and modernity to create a functional object. Colour photographs of the jar as a lamp exist in the object’s archive.
A similar canopic jar can be found in the British Museum that is made out of calcite with a very similar colour definition to this. The dimensions are also alike, although the dedicatory inscription naming the owner of the jar; Gemenefhorbak, is in one vertical line rather than four. The similarities in material and style of these two jars attests to their popularity throughout Ancient Egypt. The British Museum example has its original lid, which is in the form of a carved calcite human god figure; probably of a similar type to that which would have been made for this jar.
Originally used as a lamp in the Victorian Period (see photo below).
Private Collection of Joel Matheison, New York, acquired prior to 1970.
French Art Market (accompanied by French Cultural Passport 128828).