Painted Egyptian coffin first to auction

A rare Egyptian painted wood coffin will come to auction for the first time at Bonhams Antiquities sale on July 6. The elaborately-decorated coffin for the lady Irtwrw, circa 747-525 B.C has an estimate of £80,000–£120,000.

Death and the afterlife held particular meaning for the ancient Egyptians and complex funeral preparations and rites were observed to ensure the transition of the deceased from earthly existence to immortality. This impressive piece, intricately painted and inscribed, depicts scenes of the lady Irtwrw’s journey into the afterlife. In the rituals for burial ceremonies, spells were cast, and gods invoked, to guarantee her eternal life.

An Egyptian painted wood anthropoid coffin for the lady Irtwrw

The deceased is named only once on the coffin in a scene showing her lying on a funeral bed, while being tended by the jackal headed god of mummification, Anubis. Osiris, the god of the underworld is depicted, along with his wife Isis and the four sons of Horus. The back of the coffin is decorated with the standing winged figure of the goddess Nut, the goddess of the sky and heavens, with the three hieroglyphs naming her.

Francesca Hickin, Head of Antiquities at Bonhams, commented, “This is a very rare piece. Egyptian painted wood coffins, complete with their full lid and back rarely come up for auction. This is the best example of an Egyptian anthropoid coffin that we have had at Bonhams. It is particularly special, as it has never been offered at auction, and has not been on the market since it was acquired in 1965. The coffin is part of the remarkable Bodo Bless Collection of Egyptian Antiquities and has an excellent provenance.”

Other highlights in the sale include:

  • A significant attic red-figure pelike, attributed to the Eucharides painter, circa 490-480 BC, estimated at £40,000-60,000. Published extensively since 1977, this remarkable pelike is one of the earliest depictions showing lovemaking between an older and younger man.  Relationships such as the one shown, between an erastes and an eromenos, were well-established and were a widely accepted social institution amongst the aristocracy in Archaic and Classical Athens. It was all part of preparing the younger male to take his place in the upper echelons of male adult society.
  • A rare attic black-figure Siana cup with horsemen, circa 560-550 B.C with an estimate of £30,000 – 40,000. The exterior of the cup depicts four youths on horseback, which esteemed academic, Herman Brijder, suggests may represent victorious jockeys, as denoted by the wreath in the field, with the soaring birds overhead symbolising and emphasising the prowess of the competitors. The interior tondo depicts a running hoplite, wearing a high crested helmet and holding a shield and spear. The combining of depictions of athletes with warriors is known from other vases.

An Attic black-figure Siana cup with horsemen. Attributed to the Taras Painter, circa 560-550 B.C.

  • The Nico Bijnsdorp Collection of Ancient Glass (Part II) includes some beautiful pieces such as a Roman cast mosaic glass patella cup, made from tiny rods of glass, circa late 1st century B.C – early 1st century A.D with an estimate of £8,000–£12,000,a Byzantine green glass mould-blown jug for St Sabas, one of the founders of Eastern monasticism, circa 5th-7th century A.D. Estimated at £10,000–£15,000 it is the only known example of this mould. Other remarkable pieces include a large Roman aubergine glass splashed aryballos, circa mid-1st century A.D with an estimate of £20,000–£30,000. This lot combines an incredibly rare technique with an unusual form, very few of the known ‘splashed’ vessels are aryballoi, and even fewer are as large as this example.

A Roman cast mosaic glass patella cup, circa late 1st Century B.C - early 1st Century A.D.