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Egyptian alabaster head rest with an inscription

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: Egyptian
: Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6, ca. 2345-2181 B.C.
: Alabaster
: Height: 20 cm, Width: 17 cm

ex Kofler Collection, 1970s


This headrest is composed of four pieces—one that curves upward to support the head; a square abacus; a column with a smooth band reserved for the inscription; and a flat, rectangular base sculpted with a circular platform, on which rests the column pedestal. Its form, which clearly recalls studies of funerary architecture, was developed during the Old Kingdom,  culminating in Dynasty 6 with a fully formed classical style. This example is typical of the end of the Old Kingdom, with a flaring, evenly fluted column subjected to a slight entasis. Breaks, such as that on the right side of the well-curved arch, are extremely common on this type of object. 

While headrests of this form are commonly found, they were generally reserved for high dignitaries.   On the other hand, there are very few four-piece calcite headrests to be found.  All other known examples date to Dynasty 6 and were used exclusively as funerary and votive objects, because this method of assembling the four pieces, and the slightly excessive height of the column would not have allowed for daily use.  The dedicatory inscription that runs from right to left on the abacus and vertically on the column facade is identical to the one on the band. It is standard for this type of object, identifying the deceased with the standard formulaic dedication, “the sole friend” and “prèbende”.   One can read on the abacus: “the sole  of Nefer-Neferti,” and on the column, “the sole friend, next to the great god, Nefer-Neferti”. 


For more on this form, see Milena Perraud, “Die Kopfstütze vor der Dritten Dynastie,” Göttiner Miszellen 165 (1998), pp. 83-90.

For examples of headrests reserved for high dignitaries, consult the excavation reports of the mastabas of the governors of Balat: Michel Vallogia, Le mastaba de Medou-Nefer, Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 31 (Cairo: l’Institut français d’archéologie, 1986), p. 170; Anne Minault-Gout, Le mastaba d’Ima-Pépi, Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 33 (Cairo: l’Institut français d’archéologie, 1992); Dominique Valbelle, “Rapport préliminaire de la campagne de fouilles 1976,” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 78 (1978), p. 61, fig. 5; Georges Castel, “Le tombeau de Khentika, gouverneur de l’oasis de Dakhla,” Archeologia 361 (Nov. 1999), pp. 32-33; Georges Castel, Laure Pantalacci, and Nadine Cherpion, Le mastaba de Khentika, Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 40 (Cairo: l’Institut français d’archéologie, 2001), vol. 1, p. 42, cat. nos. 42, 152; vol. 2, p. 103, fig. 104; p. 114, fig. 117; and p. 181, photo 91 (P4).

For examples of these, see Milena Perraud, Appuis-tête de l’Egypte pharaonique: typologie et significations, ms. submitted for publication: Cairo JE 88562, Cleveland 14.626, Louvre AE 4084 N2737B (Ancienne collection Clot-Bey), Hildesheim 3197, Metropolitan Museum of Art 10.130, 1250.

Many such inscribed personal items carry such titles; for examples of many from the Old Kingdom, see Perraud, Appuis-tête de l’Egypte pharaonique. As a parallel, see a headrest from Dynasty 6 belonging to the chamberlain Metou, in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris (AE 5379/E 22285) 

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