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Fragment of a Coffin


Scene with the Separation of Heaven and Earth

Place of production Akhmim (?), Egypt
Date 1069–945 B.C.
Object type tomb equipment
Medium, technique wood, paint, varnished with resin

27 x 47 cm

Inventory number 87.5-E
Collection Egyptian Art
On view This artwork is not on display

The two fragments (inv. no. 87.4-E and 87.5-E) were originally placed on the opposite sides of the same anthropoid coffin, at the height of the shoulders. From the stylistic features it is obvious that the two pieces once belonged to a coffin of a Twenty-first Dynasty burial which was cut into pieces at the end of the nineteenth century. A third part of the same coffin can be found in The Victoria Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Uppsala. The scene on fragment 87.4-E depicts Osiris enthroned upon a stepped platform. The throne itself is placed on the body of a huge snake symbolizing the passage between this world and beyond. In front of the resurrected god, the figures of Isis and Nephthys as well as the avian ba-soul of the deceased can be observed. The space under the serpent is occupied by mummy-shaped squatting figures who are well-known from the vignettes of spell 146 of the Book of the Dead where they guard the gates of the Netherworld. The central motif on fragment 87.5-E is an episode from the Heliopolitan creation myth, namely when Shu, the god of the air and light, separated his offspring, the Earth (Geb) and the Heaven (Nut) from each other. The act of separation of heaven and earth is a key moment in the creation since, by this, the creator god assigns the limits of the world and provides the cyclical journey of the sun god on the body of Nut by day and inside her by night.
The two compositions at issue frequently occur on the same spot – opposite to each other – on Twenty-first Dynasty Theban coffins. The aim of these scenes was to advance the resurrection of the deceased which can be achieved by both the Osirian renewal and the creative activity of the sun god.

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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