A spectacular 2,300-year-old collection of funerary objects from an Egyptian tomb is the centerpiece of the Nelson-Atkins galleries of Egyptian art. Among the objects is an elaborately decorated, 7-foot inner coffin designed for an Egyptian noblewoman, Meret-it-es.
Meret-it-es lived about 350 BCE, about 1,000 years after Tutankhamun. Her collection includes an elaborately painted inner coffin, an outer coffin, a gilded mask and cartonnage, statuettes of Isis and Nephthys, and 305 ushebtis, or figurines intended as the noblewoman’s workers in her afterlife existence.
Little else is known about the woman, although a column of hieroglyphs repeated frequently on the coffins identifies her as Meret-it-es, which means “beloved by her father.” The assemblage did not include the actual mummy. However, the Nelson-Atkins galleries features an Egyptian mummy that was acquired prior to the Meret-it-es collection, plus other works of art from Egyptian tombs.
Ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to ensure that life would continue after death and that one could enter a sort of paradise, named the Field of Offerings, with eternal life ensured by preservation of the body and the magical workings of the coffins.
Both the inner and outer coffins are painted with elaborate images meant to ensure the resurrection of Meret-it-es: Nut, the sky goddess, who boldly outstretches her wings to protect Meret-it-es; chattering baboons that raise their arms in adoration of the sun; and Egyptian dung beetles that push the great solar disk through the heavens. Each figure, each color and each hieroglyph follow a formula intended to allow entry into the afterlife.
The Meret-ite-s assemblage is part of the museum’s distinguished collection of ancient art, known for such masterpieces as the painted wood statue of the court officer Metjejti, the stone statue of the nobleman Ra-wer, as well as the over-life-size stone portrait of the great pharaoh Senuseret III.
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Image: Inner Coffin of Meret-it-es, Egyptian, Late Period to Ptolemaic Period, 30th Dynasty to early Ptolemaic Dynasty, ca. 380-250 B.C.E. Wood, pigment, gesso and gilding. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust (by exchange), 2007.12.2.A.B.