Call for donations for the restoration campaign of the Egyptian funerary shroud of the 2nd century AD

18.08.2015 – 11.10.2015

Main Building

We continue the call for donations for the restoration campaign of the Egyptian funerary shroud of the 2nd century AD with a unique image. A woman in a pink tunic holding a hand of a boy in a white toga is depicted in the center of the shroud. The faces of the woman and the child, who is, without any doubt, her little son, are individually portrayed. It is highly probable that the woman and the child died at the same time and thus are depicted together on this funerary cerement. It is also possible that it was the woman who died, and the artist added the image of a child to emphasize her maternal role. The mother and her son stand between the two Egyptian gods – Anubis (the figure with a jackal's head), responsible for embalming and Osiris (the mummy-like figure), the ruler of the underworld.

The shroud needs an urgent restoration. It appears that it was moved to another canvas with insufficient proficiency, thus after some time loss of the paint layer occurred. The current state of the shroud can result in a total loss of the image. Restorers and custodians from The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts have elaborated a plan to save this unique masterpiece, which involves an integrated physical, chemical, and microbiological research led together with specialists from the Grabar All-Russia Art Scientific and Restoration Center, The State Hermitage, The Louvre (Paris), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).

All those who wish to support the restoration program can donate online.

Donate online.

The funerary shroud comes from the collection of Vladimir Golenishchev, a Russian Egyptologist and Orientalist (1856-1947). A professional scientist, he had been assembling his collection of oriental antiquities for 30 years and sold it to the Museum in 1909. The Golenishchev's collection consists of nearly 7,000 items.

Painted funerary shrouds were produced in Egypt in times of Classical Antiquity (4th century BC – 4th century AD). Nearly 100 shrouds and fragments have been discovered. The first examples of such artefacts date back to the 1st century BC, although their mass production does not start until the 2nd – 3rd century AD. Most of funerary shrouds come from ancient necropoleis of Memphis (Saqqara), Thebes, and Faiyum. The artistic technique of these shrouds is unique – it involves tempera and distemper paint applied on a linen canvas. The shrouds had a ritual meaning – they were used to cover mummies wrapped in bandages. Although a fine condition of some of the pieces suggests their possible use as a sort of "paintings" hung on walls.

There are several types of shroud images. Shrouds of the first type show the deceased person as a full-length mummy; those of the second one have the deceased person depicted in Roman garments – a tunic or a toga. The third type ones feature the deceased standing in Roman clothes accompanied by two of the most important Egyptian deities – Anubis and Osiris, with the face of the deceased painted using encaustic tempera. Portraits were supposedly executed during a person's lifetime and were later set into shrouds. Only six shrouds of this type are known to exist in the world: one is kept at the Louvre, three at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, and two at The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. All of them supposedly come from the Saqqara necropolis and date to the 2nd century BC.

The Moscow shroud is unique for its iconography: it depicts a woman holding a child's hand. Some hypotheses suggest it is a girl, nevertheless it is hard to judge based on facial traits only. The child wears a white toga with black stripes (clavi); his hairstyle is characteristic for boys – a so-called "sidelock of youth", a lock of hair kept above the right ear. Thus, it is most probably an image of a boy. The young woman wears a long pink tunic with dark lilac clavi – a sign of an important social rank – with a white cloak, a pink and yellow handbag in her right hand, and a branch of myrtle in her left hand. The mother and the son are barefooted.

The faces of the woman and the child are portrayed emphasizing their individual traits. Unfortunately, the paint layers on the woman's face are severely damaged, although the remaining parts of it show that she had an elongated face and almond-shaped black eyes. Her black straight hair is parting in the middle. It is exactly this type of hairstyle with a peculiar triangular outline on the front that lets date the shroud back to the period of rule of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, i.e. 120-130 AD.

This is the only known case of a double portrait on a funerary shroud. It is highly probable that the mother and the child died at the same time, and thus are depicted together. It is also possible that it was the woman who died, and the artist added the image of a child to emphasize her maternal role. The mother and the child are accompanied by Anubis, embalmer god and guide to the underworld, depicted as a human with a jackal's head, and Osiris, the ruler of the underworld. The body of Anubis is painted in black, a symbol of the underworld and eternal life. His head is covered with a headcloth ("nemes") with orange and lilac stripes. A white sun disc is depicted behind his head. The god wears long garments imitating bird feathers and a decorative stripe with a chequer pattern.

Anubis invites the woman towards Osiris with a gesture. He has a round pink-cheeked face with prominent features, full lips, and big greenish eyes under thick black eyebrows. Osiris wears a yellow nemes headcloth and a headdress with horns coming from an Ancient Egyptian atef crown. In his hands, he holds a wand and a whip – ancient symbols of power. The mummy of the deity is wrapped in white and pink cloth creating a diamond shaped pattern typical for the Roman period. The figure of Osiris on the shroud can be interpreted in two ways – as a depiction of the ruler of the underworld greeting the deceased, and as an image of the deceased woman herself, after her resurrection and transformation into Osiris.

Egyptians believed that after the mummification process human body transfigures dramatically achieving an "illumination". According to an Ancient Egyptian myth, Osiris was killed by his brother Set, and then resurrected by his spouse Isida. That is why after mummification every deceased person transforms into Osiris and can resurrect in the underworld. The funerary shroud depicts the moment of the passage of the deceased from his worldly life to the underworld, thus the characters are shown on a funerary boat going to the West, where the realm of Osiris lays. The sun discs on the boat and behind Anubis' head also symbolize resurrection after death, drawing a parallel between the deceased and the sun, which sets in the West and rises again in the East.

Behind Osiris, a figure of a servant wearing a yellow tunic and a cone shaped blue hat is seen. The servant draws water from a well with a special tool called shadufa. According to Ancient Egyptian beliefs, Osiris offers cool pure water to the deceased to resurrect him. The shroud also features other characters related to death, divine judgment, and resurrection copied from decorative paintings in the tombs of Ancient Egypt. These are the images of a deity above the woman's head, the four sons of Horus or canopic jars next to Osiris and Anubis, and small black schematic figures – probably souls of deceased welcoming the newcomer to the realm. Despite its poor condition, it is obvious that the shroud was executed by a prominent master, it is evidenced by a high quality of the artistic work and a skillful combination of artistic and iconographical methods of Ancient Egyptian and Classical traditions. There is no doubt that this funeral shroud is a unique artwork.

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