BM 2105 Nebamun musicians 982

In 1820 the British Museum acquired from Henry Salt a number of Egyptian antiquities. Among them were some paintings that had been hacked away from a tomb chapel, probably somewhere in the region of Luxor. The tomb originally belonged to Nebamun, a moderately wealthy Egyptian living in the 13th century BC. Recently the paintings have undergone a five-year restoration in the British Museum laboratory and are now magnificently on display, and are now one of the highlights of the Egyptian galleries at the Museum: they give a remarkable insight into life in the New Kingdom in Egypt.

Nebamun hunting 989Here is Nebamun himself, out hunting, a good illustration of what a well-dressed Egyptian should look like. He wears a kilt, known as a shendyt, though this is rather a fashionable one, with the two ends tucked in at the top to give a gap at the front that comes near to revealing his crotch: is this deliberate? On his head he had a wig, while round his neck a floral collar. In his right hand he holds a bird trying to fly away. Behind him is his wife, smaller than him, while between his legs is his young daughter, naked as all children are up to the age of six.

One of the best known panels is that where Nebamun views the produce of the estate with some wonderful pictures of the animals that formed his wealth.

BM 2015 Nebamun Cattle 972One of the finest scenes shows cows being herded for inspection with the herdsman standing in the middle earning urging them on. He is wearing a wig, though most of the lesser farm-workers are shown bald. It seems that all Egyptians had their heads shaven in order to combat the head lice which were prevalent, but the better off Egyptians wore a wig when they went out, so the wearing of a wig to some extent classifies the figures.

BM 2015 Ne4bamun accountant 974One of my favourite scenes comes at the top left of the previous scene, shown here in detail, where an accountant (much damaged) is adding up the accounts and the farmworker who is being audited,  kneels on the ground kissing his feet. As a former accountant, I believe that all clients should behave like this!

BM 2015 Nebamun geese P910In this register, geese are being herded with the gooseherd at the centre trying to keep them in order. In the register above a number of farmworkers come to be recorded, those in front kneeling down while those behind are still standing. They all wear kilts, but most are shaven headed with only the leading worker wearing a wig.

BM 2015 Nebamun Hares 998One of the most charming scenes is this isolated fragment featuring a man carrying two hares. There are in fact four men carrying offerings shown in this fragment: the right-hand one carrying sheaves of corn, then the man carrying two hares, and to his left the man is carrying a baby gazelle in his arms, holding tight the legs so he could not escape. At the extreme left is another man carrying sheaves of grain. The portrayal of the hares is one of the masterpieces of Egyptian art.

But the most famous of the paintings are the banqueting scenes, to remind Nebamun of the banquets he enjoyed on earth and the banquets that he hopes to enjoy in the afterlife.

BM 2015 Nebamun banquet general 982The central feature are the two naked dancing girls accompanied by musicians; but note the large jars of wine to their right which will doubtless ensure that the proceedings go with a swing.

Note too in the upper register at the centre the husband and wife – their heads unfortunately lost, but the wife is lovingly clutching her husband while the husband is admiring the naked serving girl in front of him.

BM 2105 Nebamun musicians 982Here are the musicians, playing no doubt a lively tune. They are dressed in the height of fashion with long flowing tight-fitting dresses, with the folds marked by yellow stripes down to their knees, but below the knees they are translucent, showing their legs beneath the garments

BM 22015 Nebamun other musicians 977There is also a second set of musicians, not in fact playing their instruments but holding them ready to play.

BM 2015 Nebamun seated guests 984Another large panel shows some seated guests in the bottom register. These are highborn females, seated on black chairs; but note the perfume cones on their heads: these consisted of lumps of fat imbued with perfume giving out a pleasant perfume all round.

In the upper register there are three sets of guests, each a husband and wife, each being served by a naked waitress.







BM 2015 Nebamun waitress 984Here is the detail of one of the naked waitresses where you can see quite clearly her pubic hairs beneath her belt, showing that she really was naked

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And here finally this a close-up of the dancing girls performing a kind of karaoke, for the words of the songs are given in the hieroglyphics above. Their sinuous dancing would have pleased Nebamun, and now 3000 years later they are still as lascivious as they no doubt were for Nebamun’s benefit.



On to How to dress in ancient Egypt


 23 July 2015