At a local antique store, amidst the mouldering old books and the vases that seem to wait for Marie Antoinette herself to walk in the door and fork over exorbitant prices for their kitschy beauty is a rare object: a Late Period Egyptian funerary figure, or Shabti. The owner was a priest named Horemheb.
The shabti is about 5 inches tall and made of robin’s egg blue faience. It has some white discolourations on the right shins and on the right side. The faience was not glossy but instead had a matte texture, and the figure was very heavy. It is a mumiform statue on a plinth like the coffins with which it is contemporary. It has a back column which is the same width as the back lappet of the wig which is separated from the wig by an incised line. The face is elongated and has a rather knobby and protruding chin which makes it slightly grotesque looking. The arms of the figure are crossed and the hands both grasp a hoe, with the right hand grasping a sort of rope as well. Unlike other shabtis of this person, this one has a plaited beard. The glyphs are very delicately and skillfully rendered–they’re incised vertically on the front and on the back pillar in the direction shown. Something that struck me was how the Khered child almost seems to sit on the “pa” block. On the back, the Sheryt child is “sitting” on a stylized “n” glyph. I’ve tried to express this in the reproduction above. The glyphs say, roughly, “Cause to be illuminated the Osiris, The Renep Priest Horemheb, son of Ankh-pa-khered, born of Ta-shery(t)-in-(ta)-ih(et).”
Collectors’ sites can sometimes be a little short on facts, and dealers’ sites are even worse. Unfortunately, these were pretty much the entirety of Google’s yield. The published “dead tree” literature was nearly silent regarding Horemheb. Glenn Janes’ Shabti: a Private View lists a Shabti of this person, but no provenance. Apparently, the Louvre purchased a set of beautifully made faience plaques with a “http di nsw” formula belonging to Renep Priest Horemheb from a Drouot auction in September 1999 (30/9/99, Lot 197). (Tariant, 1999) . They also acquired a shabti of Horemheb from a source unknown to myself in April 2005. The shabti and the plaques are now ascension numbers E32787, and E32591 respectively. The 1999 date given by Tariant for the plaques is the earliest date I can verify for funerary equipment of Horemheb. I must say, however, that I have very limited access to old auction catalogues. A much older date, which I’ve been unable to verify comes from the 14th of April 2011 Christies sale in London (Sale 6060, lot 145) , which it claims came from Gallery Pytheas in Paris in 1975. (Christies, 2011)
Janes lists several other auctions where shabtis of this owner were sold. The earliest date he has for the shabtis is the above Drouot auction and an auction at the Dorotheum, Vienna on 13/12/1999, Lot 142. (Janes, pp201) As for our particular Shabti, it came from an Arte Primitivo Gallery auction in the early 2000’s. I first saw it in the antique store in 2005.
So, what do we know about Horemheb? Very little, actually. He lived during the twilight of Pharaonic Egyptian Civilization, the Late Period. He was a Renep priest. The word “Renep” seems to translate to “rejuvenation”and the title of Renep Priest is associated with the cults of Hathor and Sekhmet in Third Nome of lower Egypt, hence the Louvre’s attribution of the statue to Kom el Hisn (Johnson, pp28), It’s possible that the burial was elsewhere in the area, for example, at Kom el Firin or Sais. (Spencer, 2008) Horemheb’s father’s name was Ankhpakhered and his mother’s name, though it’s written in a highly abbreviated fashion on this particular Shabti was probably Ta-sherit-en-ta-ihet. The Ihet, or “the Cow” here is probably a reference to the goddess Hathor, which would be perfectly appropriate for the mother of a man functioning in the cult of Hathor. Horemheb’s family was wealthy enough to furnish him with what seems to have been a lavish burial. The plaques in the Louvre have holes on the sides indicating that they would have been sewn down the front of the shroud of his mummy. His shabtis are of excellent quality.
I went through a bit of an ethical dilemma about whether I should write about this topic. There is a school which believes that items of no provenance on the art market should not be published lest publishing them lends legitimacy the collecting of looted objects. To me, this seems like severing one’s nose to spite one’s face. Like it or not, the item is on the art market now, and there is very little reliable information on it available. I believe that there is some value in tracking the movement of these items as they surface and disappear again into various private collections. It’s worth recording that the item from the Louvre is part of a set amongst which there are stylistic variations and orthographic variations. These deserve to be recorded though we’ve lost so much of the context of the object.
I hope that new information comes to light about Horemheb and his family, but we can’t ever get the original archaeological context of these Shabtis back, so we’ll have to rely on objects for which we do have context to tell us more about them.