Vignette from the Book of the Dead of Nesitanebtashru

From the burial of Nesitanebtashru, Deir el-Bahari, Thebes
21st Dynasty, around 1025 BC

Shu supporting Nut: the separation of the earth from heaven by the god of the air

This vignette is part of the Greenfield papyrus, the Book of the Dead of the priestess Nesitanebtashru, daughter of High Priest Pinudjem I. It is named after Mrs Edith Greenfield, the donor of the papyrus to the British Museum, whose husband acquired it in Egypt in 1880.

It is one of the best surviving examples of a funerary papyrus. The original document was over thirty-seven metres long, with spells illustrated by a series of vignettes. One of the most important scenes shows an episode in the creation of the world, according to the Heliopolitan myth. The myth centres on the Heliopolitan god Atum as the creator. He and three generations of his descendants are known as the Great Ennead.

According to the myth Atum created his two offspring Tefnut (moisture) and Shu (air) by sneezing and spitting. They in turn gave birth to Nut (heaven) and Geb (earth). This vignette shows Nut stretched over the earth, represented by Geb, who lies below her. The toes of the goddess are at the eastern horizon, and her fingertips at the western horizon. She is separated from Geb by her father Shu, who holds her up with both hands. This separation did not prevent Geb and Nut having four children: Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. The myths surrounding these four deities relate to the emergence of human society; the separation of earth and sky constitutes the creation of the world.

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More information

Bibliography

G. Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

T.G.H. James, Egyptian painting and drawing (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

I. Shaw and P. Nicholson (eds.), British Museum dictionary of A (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

Dimensions

Length: 93.000 cm (frame)
Width: 53.500 cm (frame)

Museum number

EA 10554/87

YCA65729

Gift of Mrs Greenfield

Location

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