Relief of a procession of offering bearers from the tomb of Ny-Ank-Nesut

2575–2134 BCE
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General Description

This carved and painted limestone relief originally decorated a wall in the tomb of Ny-Ank-Nesut, who is believed to have been an important court official, possibly a high priest of Ra (Re) during the late 5th or early 6th Dynasty Egypt. The artist conformed to the classic Egyptian convention for depicting the human form by combining the frontal and profile views of the eight male servants wearing short kilts. A group of servant figures move from left to right carrying offerings for the departed, including loaves of bread, cakes, geese, papyrus leaves, bowls of lotus flowers, a hedgehog in a cage, vessels of beer, and other things that would magically come to life upon Ny-Ank-Nesut's resurrection. Many other reliefs from his tomb are displayed in American museums, notably the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Offering scenes like this one reflect the Egyptian idea that the dead person lived in the afterworld much as a priest or noble did in life. In effect, the work of art is a form of pictorial magic, supplying items necessary in the afterlife for the tomb's owner. Soon after the entombment, relatives of the dead person might leave food offerings, and in later years, priests might also leave such offerings, but when it was immortalized by art in scenes like this one, the food supply would last for eternity.

The magical nature of this handsome scene explains its hieroglyphic purity of form. Each person or object is modeled with extreme clarity of form and outline, as if the procession were a text to be read. The basic conventions of Egyptian art, as they developed during the Old Kingdom, fused written symbols and pictorial form. The whole of Nyankhnesut's tomb was a house for the dead person, and each of its elements ensured a luxurious way of life in the afterworld.

Adapted from

  • Anne Bromberg, "Procession of offering bearers," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 19.
  • Anne Bromberg, Label text [1965,28.M], Egyptian Gallery, January 2003.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), cat. 60, 180-181.

Fun Facts

  • Nearly 60 reliefs from the Saqqara tomb of Ny-ankh-Nesut are dispersed in some eighteen museums and private collections around the world.

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