Fishing and Fowling scene from the tomb of Nebamun
18th Dynasty, New Kingdom
Fragment of a polychrome tomb-painting representing Nebamun, standing in a small boat, fowling and fishing in the marshes, his wife stands behind and his daughter sits beneath, he holds a throw-stick in one hand and three decoy herons in the other, his cat is shown catching three of the numerous birds which have been startled from the papyrus-thicket.
Part of a painted tomb-wall with a scene of Asiatic tribute-bearers in two registers.
1400 BC (circa)
18th Dynasty (Reign of Thutmosis V)
These fragments are almost as well-known as the famous Nebamun tomb paintings. Sebekhotep’s tomb is located on the West Bank at Luxor, at the north end of the hill of Sheikh Abdel Qurna, the site of the tombs of most of the high officials of the Theban region in the Eighteenth Dynasty before the reign of Amenhotep III. Unfortunately, the decorated chapel is quite badly damaged, and suffered the attentions of robbers in the twentieth century AD: photographic records of the tomb made by Harry Burton of the Metropolitan Museum of Art between about 1926 and 1940 show several substantial fragments which had disappeared when the tomb was studied and published in the early 1980s. Nonetheless, the paintings which survive in situ are brightly coloured and beautifully executed.
Sebekhotep was an important treasury official in the reign of Thutmose IV (c. 1400-1390 BC), bearing the title ‘overseer of the seal’, in effect the minister of finance. He was the son of Min, who had held the same title in Thutmose III’s reign. It is likely that Sebekhotep was mayor of the Faiyum region before attaining his highest title in Thebes; as his father came from the Delta, it is possible that, like many other Theban officials, he came south at the king’s request.
Two pairs of men in Asiatic dress do obeisance to Sebekhotep and (by inference) to the king at the beginning of each sub-register, while behind each is a row of standing men carrying vessels. Several of these are most elaborate, and are made of gold inlaid with semi-precious stones; the others are probably also of metal. One man leads a small girl by the hand, while another bears a vessel probably made from an elephant tusk.
The scene shows a bound lion taunted by four cupids. In the foreground one pulls a rope attached to the lion’s hind leg, while the one in the top right corner waves a cloth like a bull-fighter. On the hill in the background stands Bacchus, god of wine. The panel is an emblema, a decorative element designed to be the central point of an otherwise plain floor or wall. The emblema was originally an import from the Hellenistic eastern Mediterranean, where, especially in cities such as Pergamon (Pergamum), Ephesos and Alexandria, there were artists specializing in their production. One such was Sosus of Pergamum, who worked in the second century AD.
Emblemata were usually much more finely worked than ordinary mosaics, achieving a degree of detail, perspective and shading more akin to the subtleties of painting. This was achieved through the use of very small tesserae (the cubes of stone or glass of which mosaics are made) in a technique called opus vermiculatum.
As with sculpture, several copies were usually made of the same emblema, and other examples of this scene can now be found in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome and the National Archaeological Museum, Naples. A wall-mounted piece by Sosus, which showed doves drinking from an ornate bowl, was widely copied in antiquity. The workmanship was said to be so perfect that real doves flew against the mosaic in a vain attempt to join their stone companions.
The scene depicts two women in festive dress perfuming garments. A stool suspended by chords is piled with folded clothing. On the ground below, there is a pile of wood shavings and twigs from which smoke rises. One woman carefully empties an oinochoe onto the fire. The other woman surveys the “swing” and stands beside a stately chair with a footstool over which more clothes are slung. At the far left is a wreathed boy wearing a himation (cloak). The shape of the vase facilitates the association of the scene with the Anthesteria, a three-day festival held in January/February that celebrated the new wine with the special inclusion of young children, an epiphany of Dionysos, and the ritual marriage of the god with the basilinna, the wife of the chief archon of Athens.
Fragment of a polychrome tomb-painting representing the pool in Nebamun’s estate garden: date-palms, sycomores and mandrakes hedge the pool which teems with fish and fowl; the goddess of the sycomore, surrounded by her produce, is shown in the top right-hand corner.
From the ceiling of the tomb. It shows a young man dressed as a shepherd wearing an ivy wreath and cloak. He is leaning against a tree, holding a crook and a bunch of grapes. On the right is a draped girl sitting on a stool covered in drapery holding a staff.
These figures are perhaps divine, as the young man is wreathed in ivy and holding grapes I would suggest he represented Bacchus (Dionysus in Greek) the god of wine, or one of his followers. The woman, who is wearing a wreath in her hair and holding a staff which are symbols normally the reserve of divine women, I suggest is Ariadne. The wife of Dionysus/ Bacchus who was abandoned on an island by Theseus after she helped him defeat the minotaur. Dionysus saw her lamenting and fell in love. He revealed himself to her and made her his wife, eventually making her a goddess.
Other painting from the tomb include followers of Bacchus, and a winged man and woman. The woman holds a golden crown. The crown Bacchus gives Ariadne was commemorated in the stars as the constellation Cornia. There is also a painting of Pluto kidnapping Proserpina in his chariot from the tombs wall.
From the home of a wealthy Roman. It shows Ulysses (Odysseus in Greek) and his crew steer there ship past the Sirens. Sirens were half woman, half bird creatures whose songs drew ships in the rocks so they could devour the sailors.