Stela of Lady Taperet

For this issue, Dr Campbell Price chooses a beautifully painted object from the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The stela  of Taperet in the  Louvre Museum.

A close-up of the hieroglyphs for ‘thousands of bread, beer, beef, and fowl’.

Striking because of its vividly preserved colours and somewhat unusual composition, this painted wooden stela is representative of an object type placed in tombs of the Theban elite of the Twenty-second Dynasty (c.950-850 BC). Grave goods were minimal at that time, and decorated tomb chapels almost non-existent – so this bright panel may have been the only colour in an otherwise cramped and monochrome underground space.

Taperet is described only as a ‘Lady of the House’ (indicating a woman with a partner and broader family) and is shown adoring the falcon-headed sun god Ra-Horakhty, whose rays stretch out from the disc on top of his head towards his supplicant. In a rare departure from convention, the solar rays are made up of floral blooms – which can be read as indicating ‘life’ in contemporary iconography, the eternal benefit Taperet expects to receive for her piety.

This finely painted composition places the deceased in the eternal company of the gods and emphasises her reciprocal relationship with them: she stands before a richly laden pile of food and drink, ostensibly a gift for Ra-Horakhty but of which she can partake. Taperet is literally surrounded by offerings – the hieroglyphs for ‘thousands of bread, beer, beef, and fowl’, the classic menu for the deceased and one that was already more than 2,000 years old by this point in pharaonic culture.

The lady herself wears a pleated diaphanous dress; its surviving colour appears as if it were smeared in fragrant perfume – additionally indicated by the unguent cone on her head. The whole scene is framed by the curved vault of the sky, held aloft by elongated clumps of papyrus (on the left) and lilies (right) representing Lower and Upper Egypt respectively. The small human heads perhaps imply being ‘on the earth’ and not forgotten.

The stela is double-sided. The reverse shows Taperet adoring Atum, a divine counterpart of Ra-Horakhty, with a figure of the sky goddess Nut stretched protectively overhead. Taperet raises her arms reverently to both gods, and in turn receives their perpetual succour.

Images: Robert B Partridge