Welcome back … the MANN and its coffins

June 2021

Stefania returned to the MANN in June 2021, a museum where she had previously spent 3 years of her PhD research followed by numerous collaborations on projects related to the Egyptian Collection. Despite holding a mere few Egyptian coffins in the collection at MANN, of which only two are yellow coffins, these objects are very interesting for the Faces Revealed Project.

The Egyptian Collection in Naples

The Egyptian collection of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN) comprises around 2,000 objects and is formed from different core collections. The first of these is the Borgia collection created during the 18th century by the Borgia family - especially the Cardinal Stefano Borgia - in their residence in Velletri and then sold by Camillo Borgia to Joachim Murat, the King of Napoli, in 1814. The Giuseppe Picchianti collection is another core collection. It was sold in 1827 by Picchianti, a nineteenth-century explorer, who, according to his own words, travelled along the Nile valley up to Dongola in Nubia for 10 years. Finally, between 1842 and 1917 some lesser groups of artefacts with various provenances were added to the collection. Among these are ancient monuments discovered during excavations in Campania that testify to the antiquity and the continuity of relationships between Egypt and Campania since ancient times.

The Picchianti Coffins

The two yellow coffins at the MANN are inner coffins (lid+case). Both of them were sold to the Real Museo Borbonico by the traveller Giuseppe Picchianti in 1827. The objects fall in the stola-coffin typology due to the presence of two red bands (stola) that cross on the chest and allow us to date the objects back to the end of the 21st-early 22nd Dynasty. Both coffins are made up of Acacia and Sycomore fig. wooden axes both assembled using dowels and round pegs along with a closing system of mortise and tenons. The coffins have a rich polychrome decoration: they are painted but also feature moulded plaster applied as raised relief on the lid. The decoration was painted on a yellow background and then varnished. Characterized by a diffuse horror vacui, both coffins were carefully and formally decorated on a layer of linen and plaster with drawings simply but skilfully executed.

A gender reassignment (?)

One of the coffins belonged to a deceased female, the Mistress of the House, Chantress of Amun, Nesra, but it was later reused by an unknown man. On this coffin, we can see both male and female markers: a vulture headdress, the dominant criterion for the female sex; and closed hands, which are characteristic of male coffins.

The hypothesis that the coffin lid was ‘altered’ in antiquity has since been confirmed by a series of cleaning operations that brought the titles and the name of the original owner to light. Furthermore, diagnostic analyses have also shown the substitution of the hands in antiquity. As restorations have pointed out, the decoration in the area below the hands stops abruptly, the space between this area and the hands has been partially re-stuccoed and coloured in red later on. However, in the lower part, we can instead observe scarring made visible by an open palm hand of a larger dimension.

A common workshop

The coffins of the Priests of Amon have a very similar general structure especially in terms of their form and colour. However, with regards to their decoration, both the representations and their overall organization, generally change from one coffin to the other.  Comparing the minor details, however, the presence of similar common elements on different objects could indicate a contemporary date of production and possibly also a common workshop or at least indicate that they were produced by the same artist.

This is the case with the two Neapolitan coffins!

Despite the differences in the way the lids were decorated, the two Picchianti coffins present the same orthography, style, scenes, colours, and the rendering of some details, such as the decorative and liminal elements, found on both of them.

Photogrammetry

The photogrammetric survey of the two coffins was performed using a full-frame
Nikon D750 camera coupled with a Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8 lens. The two precalibrated bars (60 cm and 40 cm) optimized the cameras for both coffins. The easy position chosen for the coffins, which were placed in a horizontal position on a white table, easily allowed the camera to maintain a distance of about  1 m from the object with a calculated GSD of 0.2 mm and overlapping of more than 90%.

Many thanks are due to the Curator of the Egyptian Collection, Floriana Miele, the Director of the MANN, Paolo Giulierini, the assistant of the Scientific Office of the MANN, Rita di Maria, and the staff of the ‘consegnatari’ and conservators for their constant help and availability while the photogrammetry was undertaken. 

In the pictures: the coffin of the Mistress of the House, Chantress of Amun, Nesra (inv. nos. 2344, 2348) and the coffin of a Mistress of the House, Chantress of Amun (inv. nos. 2341, 2347). All pictures are courtesy of the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo - © Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

 

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References

  • AA.VV. Guida Alla Collezione Egizia Del MANN - Museo Archeologico Nazionale Di Napoli - Catalogo Dell’esposizione. Milano: Electa, 2016.
  • Cantilena, Renata and Paola Rubino (eds) La collezione egiziana del Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. Napoli: Arte tipografica, 1989.
  • Dello Ioio, Laura. ‘Studio e restauro di uno yellow coffin custodito presso il Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli’. Tesi Magistrale in Metodologia e Tecnica del Restauro, Suor Orsola Benincasa, 2016.
  • Mainieri, Stefania. La sezione egiziana del Museo Archeologico di Napoli (MANN). Storia, documenti d’archivio e reperti inediti delle collezioni di Stefano Borgia e Giuseppe Picchianti. Voll. I-IV. Tesi di  Dottorato di Ricerca in Egittologia (XIII ciclo), Napoli: Università degli Studi di Napoli ‘L’Orientale’, 2016.
  • ———. ‘Excavating an Archive. The Borgia Collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Di Napoli (MANN)’. In Egypt 2015: Perspectives of Research Proceedings of the Seventh European Conference of Egyptologists 2nd-7th June 2015, Zagreb, Croatia, edited by Mladen Tomorad and Joanna Popielska-Grzybowska, 269–76. Oxford: Archaeopress Egyptology 18, 2017.
  • ———.‘An Example of “Dangerous” Nineteenth-Century Restoration Work at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Di Napoli (MANN)’. In Anthropology of Forgery. A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Study of Archaeological Fakes, edited by Monica Baggio, Elisa Bernard, Monica Salvadori, and Luca Zamparo, 63–71. Anteor Quaderni 46, 2019.
  • ———. La collezione egiziana del Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.  Storia e Ricognizione inventariale. Voll. I-II. Serie Egittologica, III. Napoli: Unior Press, 2021 (see HERE).
  • ———. ‘Due “Yellow Coffin” Nel Museo Archelogico Nazionale Di Napoli. Un Caso Di Produzione Seriale?’. In Egitto e Vicino Oriente Antico Tra Passato e Futuro. The Stream of Tradition: La Genesi e Il Perpetuarsi Delle Tradizioni in Egitto e Nel Vicino Oriente Antico, edited by Simonetta Graziani and Giancarlo Lacerenza, 255–66. Series Minor XCLVI. Napoli: Unior Press, 2022 (see HERE).
  • ———. 'A New Study on Two Yellow Coffins at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN)'. Annali Sezione Orientale83 (1-2), 2023 3-37. https://doi.org/10.1163/24685631-12340139
  • Pirelli, Rosanna, and Stefania Mainieri. ‘Georg Zoëga and the Borgia Collection of Egyptian Antiquities: Cataloguing as a Method’. In The Forgotten Scholar: Georg Zoëga (1755-1809). At the Dawn of Egyptology and Coptic Studies, edited by Karen Ascani, Paola Buzi, and Daniela Picchi, 151–59. Leiden: Culture and History of Ancient Near East 74, 2015.

 

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