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Title:Stela fragment of Amenhotep I
Date Made:1293-1185 BCE (New Kingdom, Dynasty 19)
Materials:Limestone with traces of pigment
Place Made:Africa; Egypt; Deir el Medina
Measurements:Overall: 4 3/8 in x 12 3/4 in x 3 5/16 in; 11.1 cm x 32.4 cm x 8.4 cm
Accession Number:  MH 1910.7.A.G
Credit Line:Purchase with Acquisition Fund
Museum Collection:  Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

The fragment, carved in sunk relief, shows the crowned head of a king, his right hand holding a staff, and two cartouches containing the name of Amenhotep I. Posthumous representation of a king of the 18th Dynasty who ruled from 1551-1524 BCE.

Label Text:
In ancient Egypt, brightly painted relief sculpture decorated temple and tomb walls as well as upright monuments known as stelae. One fragment from a tomb wall—now lacking its original polychromy—shows an Old Kingdom nobleman with the eternally youthful features favored in much Egyptian art. The stela of Sebek-hotep, made more than 800 years later at the end of the Middle Kingdom, honors a man of relatively low rank who is shown at his funerary banquet with a female relative. Above, a prayer requests food offerings for his use in the afterlife. The likeness of King Amenhotep I and a cartouche with his name appear on a stela fragment that dates not to his reign (ca. 1551–1524 BCE), but to later in the New Kingdom, when the deceased ruler was worshipped as a patron by craftsmen at the Theban royal tombs. The adjoining fragment with the rest of the king’s body and the figure of his mother, Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, is now in the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy.


What would you do if you had a boundary dispute with a neighbor or suspected an acquaintance of stealing from you? If you lived in ancient Egypt, you might turn to the gods or to certain deified, long-dead rulers for practical assistance with your legal affairs.

For several centuries after his reign in the 16th century BCE, King Amenhotep I, shown here, was worshipped by craftsmen at Thebes, who saw him as their patron and protector. Those hoping for his favor could arrange for a stela to be set up for him at a chapel where they would offer food or recite prayers. The king’s mother, Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, was similarly revered and often depicted with him. Each also had devotional statues dedicated to them.

The deified Amenhotep participated in the justice system when priests paraded his statue, enclosed in a portable shrine, at festivals. The procession would stop so supplicants could ask the statue questions requiring a “yes” or “no” answer. An appropriate nod from the image shouldered by the priests could assign blame or innocence.

The scene on this reconstructed stela, of which fragments are found both here and in Italy, once also likely included a text naming the pious individual who dedicated it.

-Diana Wolfe Larkin, Visiting Associate Professor of Art History, Mount Holyoke College
Global Perspectives: Exploring the Art of Devotion (February 9 - May 30, 2010)

ancient; archaeology; royalty; tombs; deaths; afterlife; religion; rituals; ceremonies

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