These fragment of a tomb mural has the deceased hunting.
With his left hand he wields a throwing wood and in the right he holds three birds.
He is standing in a flat boat of papyrus stalks reinforced with wooden planks that together is little bigger than a surfboard.
In the bow is a Nile goose, behind the deceased is his wife and squatting between his legs.
In front of him the birds fill the air and the grove, some frightened and others protecting the eggs of their nests.
This Bird Hunting Among Papyri, painted before 1350 BC, is not on a new subject, but none of the nearly 200 known examples offer such a variety of bird species of such different colors.
In other representations, in addition to hunting birds, the tomb holder usually appears fishing.
In this fragment there is no fishing, but in the lower left a fragment of a spear and the back of the fish caught by the weapon can be seen.
The Egyptians believe in an afterlife, so they use their mummification techniques to preserve the body, offer food every day in cult ceremonies to the statues of the deceased and decorate their tombs with scenes from life: well-stocked tables , vines, boat rides, hunting among the papyri.
The hieroglyphs located under the left shoulder indicate the purpose of images such as in this fragment:
Enjoy, contemplate the beauty in the place of the eternal return of life .
Such forces are more important than the aesthetic level of representation.
The same is true of all cultural spaces, both temples and tombs.
So that the holders of the tombs find mountains of cow legs and roasted ducks on their tables, the painted provisions make sure that the dead do not go hungry in all eternity.
Hence, artists and artisans pronounce magic formulas during their work, the knowledge of which, along with manual skills, are transmitted from father to son.
I am the owner of the secret, proclaims a certain Iriirusen, of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1785 BC) with exultation.
I have used all the magical forces so that the plastic works created according to the precise norms can live…
Among the norms of ancient Egyptian painting and reliefs is the representation of the human body from two perspectives: lateral for the head and trunk with the legs, and frontal for the eyes and shoulders.
What most interests the Egyptians has to be seen in a perfect way.
For example, the frontal vision allowed to better appreciate the width of the back and the symbols of power that the pharaoh wears on his chest.
The Egyptians cannot represent the decisive step, because they do not know the perspective that allows to express the depth …
The different parts of the body are painted without depth and are also not modeled, but are arranged as surfaces of a single color.
The renunciation of the third dimension determines that Egyptian art has clarity.
The renunciation of the individual also favors simplicity.
The holder of the tomb is Nebamun, but THE face does not reflect the age, nor the way of being, nor the fondness for hunting.
Similarity is not sought and the core or essence of a man is painted, which is what remains once the accidental and ephemeral is eliminated …
The small braids of the wig and the great width of the back do not reflect the personal tastes of the person represented.
They are part of the representative norm of men in the upper classes of the Egyptian social hierarchy, who are identified only by written names and titles.
Nebamun is a high official and administrator of a royal genre of the 18th dynasty.
There is another tomb with a more exact representation of this type of hunting; It is a model of a small ship (from the Middle Kingdom) with rowers, with men throwing darts tied with ropes, harpoons, with idle people around and with a young woman who controls the tied birds …
According to various information, the boats are normally larger than those of Nebamun, they have cabins for a longer journey and warehouses for catches, provisions or hunting equipment.
Hunting in the swamps or the desert was one of the sporting diversions of high society.
It requires training, such as handling the throwing woods, which are slightly curved and have a thick end carved often in the shape of a snake’s head.
Nebamun holds three claims in his other hand.
According to the traditional arrangement of images, the woman is shorter than the man.
Although in fact it was taller, in the images it appears smaller: reality does not count, but social rank.
The official and administrator of the royal barn is more important than his wife, who, in turn, is more important than his daughter, who embraces the father’s legs.
These differences exist not only in the family sphere, but also in cases where the pharaoh or high officials coincide with less important figures.
It is a mistake to think that hierarchical relationships in the family lead to strict subordination.
The married woman is the owner of the house and, unlike other ancient societies in which she is considered unemancipated and had to be represented in trials by a male relative, the Egyptian woman could directly present her claims, at least in the New Kingdom (around 1550-1075 BC).
Ptahhotep (around 2300 BC) gives advice to a husband:
Fill his belly and dress his back, as it is a fertile field for its owner. But don’t let her decide, keep her away from power and tame her.
The wife of the high official wears party clothes; thus the dead man remembers her and accompanies her in eternity.
She wears a pleated dress with wide sleeves that is transparent.
All the women in the tomb representations have ideal figures.
She wears lotus flowers on both arms and a cone of ointment on her hair.
This compact mass of fat and perfume is placed on the wig at festive celebrations and when melting it perfumes and adds shine to the hair.
In the upper classes both men and women wear wigs.
Hair is one of the most important female attractions.
Scents also play an important role among the Egyptians; It is possible that several thousand years ago people smelled differently from us today.
The closeness of the gods was noted by a special scent, called god’s sweat.
As a hieroglyph, a nose signified joy and the sage Ptahhotep advises the husband to also provide his wife with aromatic ointments as a remedy for the limbs and for her heart to enjoy throughout her life .
The representation of marriages is not only characterized by their different degree of importance, but also by their arrangement.
The woman is or walks behind her husband, as is still the case in many eastern or African regions.
Two birds the cat holds with its paws and another with its teeth.
As in the case of people, here too the painter offers an idealized vision; it is a singularly beautiful, large and clever cat.
It is difficult to know if he is carrying dead animals from the bush or if he has hunted them himself.
Cats are highly valued in hunting and in the home; the favorites are Roman redheads.
For example, in a grave a painted yellowish cat appears under its owner’s seat devouring a fish.
Under a queen’s throne are three of her favorite animals: a monkey and a cat hugging a goose.
Nebamun also has a goose in addition to the cat.
In Memphis the tomb of a cat profusely decorated with reliefs has been discovered that, with the usual protective deities and sentences, resembles the sarcophagus of a short man.
The mummified animal inside was called Tamiat and it belonged to Akhenaten’s older brother, who died before taking the throne.
On one of the exterior walls that is full of reliefs, Tamiat appears before a table with food for all eternity.
All these samples come from the New Kingdom; are few compared to those of the late period, where zoolatry left an uncountable number of mummified bulls, dogs, birds and cats, as well as excellent sculptures of cats, suggesting that the sense of elegant line among the Egyptians found in them a very grateful theme.
They are generally cast in bronze and in many cases are richly ornamented, such as the one in the British Museum in London, which wears gold rings on the nose and ears, as well as a wide necklace and an eye amulet in front of the chest.
The widespread zoolatry was based on the belief that animals embodied gods or at least possessed divine forces.
Herodotus in 450 BC says:
They were considered sacred, both domestic and savage. Why did they hold them sacred? If I had tried to explain it, I would have deepened my narrative on divine things, something that I have been very careful to do.
The goddess that the Egyptians represented in the form of a cat was called Bastet.
In the Old Kingdom (about 2660-2190 BC) it was shaped like a lion; later it acquired that of cat and finally the lion goddess and the cat goddess were unified.
The Egyptian gods change their attributes over the centuries and personify different forces in each city, to the point that many of them only admit a contradictory characterization, which does not bother the Egyptians, because, regardless of all the changes, for them the true image of a god was an eternal mystery.
Bastet, the cat divinity, is happy and in his honor there are parties where alcohol abounds, especially in the late period.
However, it shares attributes with the lion goddess, who personifies the courage and love of fighting and hunting.
As a wild and happy hunter, Nebamun’s favorite cat accompanies his eternal young owner.
Nebamun’s tomb was in the necropolis of Thebes, on the west bank of the Nile.
Generally, the dead rest to the west of the cities, where the boat of the sun god is laid at dusk, rising from the east in the morning and crossing the sky during the day.
In the afterlife it returns to the east through the primordial waters or Nun.
The living hope that the dead can accompany the boat of the gods and ascend with it again into the light.
What this painting represents in key is this journey of the dead; the catch of fish in the water corresponds to the night crossing over Nun and the flying birds represent the ascent to the sky.
However, this often painted plastic motif suggests entirely different associations related to the Nile experiences.
Before building the containment dikes, the Egyptians contemplate year after year the rising of the waters, the flooding of vast areas of their fertile lands; the earth disappears and only emerges at the end of the great flood.
This phenomenon of nature evokes to the Egyptians the myths of the origin of the world.
The earth emerges as a novelty from a matter similar to the mud on the banks.
Thus, for the Egyptians, the thickness of the margins is surrounded by an aura of fertility and reproduction, whose symbol is the lotus plant of the swamps, which closes its petals at night to open them in the morning .
The swamp also plays a prominent role in the history of the gods. When the violent Set dismembers Osiris, Isis gathered the various parts of her husband’s corpse, took refuge in the swampy areas of the delta and, thanks to her magical powers, succeeded in having the dead man impregnate her.
Protecting himself in the swamp, he raises his son Horus until he can resume the fight, killing his father’s murderer.
Therefore, in addition to the rise to the sky and the birds, the Egyptians also associate the waterfront with the idea of renewal.
Hence, the painter highlights both in the painting the eggs of the birds and that both his wife and his daughter accompany the holder of the tomb, the former wearing festive clothing, unsuitable for a hunt, but very appropriate to celebrate eternal regeneration.
The three characters present lotus plants: the owner wears them on his shoulders, the wife holds them in her hand and in her wig, and the daughter plucks them out of the water in the form of a bouquet.
An anonymous poet also speaks of the possibility that the thicket is a secret place of erotic pleasures:
My beloved, I have come to the bird stand, with the trap in one hand and the net and the thrown wood in the other, to be with you alone.
In the funeral paintings everything is allusive. Among other things because by virtue of the painter’s spells the figures could become alive.
In Nebamun’s time only family and friends could enjoy this work of art by the anonymous painter.
The scenes that supposedly accompany the deceased are painted inside the cult chamber, which is only opened on certain festivals and for ritual purposes.
Centuries later the tombs fall into oblivion and are closed.
Only thieves try to penetrate them.
Fragments of Nebamun’s tomb are preserved in the British Museum, which are undoubtedly torn from the wall without any technical knowledge.
The fact that they have remained in the dark for thousands of years has made it possible to preserve their delicate colors.
Rose-Marie & Rainer Hagen en Los secretos de las obras de arte -100 obras maestras en detalle. Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis; 2016.