Part of a calcite canopic jar with a sketch of a saint

From Deir el-Bahari, Egypt
Coptic period, 7th-8th century AD

A Christian image on a broken, pre-Christian jar

In Egypt, fragments of pottery and limestone chips have been found that seem to have been used as a convenient surface for short personal inscriptions, doodling and for practice sketches. As a material these fragments cost nothing, and were readily available. Many examples have survived from dynastic Egypt. The practice continued in the Coptic period, when monastic accounts, fragments of teachings and psalms were recorded in the same way.

The artist who drew this example was probably attracted to this stone surface because of its smooth finish. This is characteristic of canopic jars, which held the internal organs of the deceased after mummification. Part of the original incised inscription can be seen on the left. It calls on one of the sons of Horus, the guardians of these organs, to protect them from harm. The artist has avoided the inscription, and used instead the smooth surface beside it for his drawing.

The drawing, in black pigment, shows a saint. He wears long robes, and has one hand raised in a typical gesture of benediction. The head of the figure is lost. This suggests that the fragment was originally larger, but has since been damaged.

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Height: 17.700 cm
Width: 11.500 cm

Museum number

EA 41416


Gift of the Egypt Exploration Fund


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