What does an Egyptologist see? Stela of Amenhotep, New Kingdom

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

What does an Egyptologist see? Stela of Amenhotep, New Kingdom

If you have ever wondered what it is that an Egyptologist sees when they look at an object, here are some personal observations of this rather fine stela from the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.
It's a funerary stela - a small carved monument that is usually placed in an accessible area of a tomb. It's designed to record the name of the owner and it's designed to be seen and read by others. The pyramid shaped top dates it to the New Kingdom, while the use of yellow pigment is indicative of the 19th Dynasty.
The text around the outside of the pictures in the 'border' is a htp di nsw or Offering formula text, in which the ritual of offering to the gods is undertaken by the king in his role as the intermediary between the mortal and divine worlds.
The stela is a device which magically ensures that the deceased receives all the nourishment they need to exist comfortably in the Afterlife.
The htp hieroglyphs in the upper middle form a point of symmetry, whereby the text can be read in each direction from that middle point. In the text the king makes offerings to two funerary deities on behalf of the deceased (named at the end of the text with their titles). Left side to Osiris, Right side to Ptah-Sokar.
In the centre there are 2 scenes. We call these scenes and sections of text 'registers'. In the upper register, Amenhotep (standing to the right) makes offerings to Osiris (seated in mummiform with an atef crown and crook/flail of kingship). Amenhotep is wearing an elaborate pleated linen outfit and a wig - the style of these point to this being a New Kingdom stela. Behind Osiris is the funerary goddess Amentet - we can see this by her headdress which is the hieroglyphic symbol for the West. She is associated with the desert and the necropolis along with other feminine divine principles such as Hathor.
The lower register shows Amenhotep pouring a libation on an offering to his parents with his wife and a priest. As is usual in Egyptian portrayal, the figures of those with the highest status are shown the largest.
The tables of offerings show standard items: meat, bread, flowers and jars.
Of interest is the rounded cone shape on the heads of some of the figures. New discoveries at Amarna may give us more information regarding the exact meaning of this symbol which was long thought to represent a perfumed wax cone, but may in fact actually denote that the person portrayed is deceased.
Egyptian funerary art while seemingly rather staid and conservative often includes very personal details. For example on this stela Amenhotep's mother has her arm around his father rather than being shown as a separate entity from her husband.
Click on the image linked below to zoom in and examine the object more closely. Traces of blue and black pigment can still be seen on the object.
Note: Inserted vowel sounds are theoretical, I have used standard English versions, while the museum uses a different version.


  1. rlp413 Glad you enjoyed it. The example of the cones shows how our understanding is changing as we discover more about ancient Egypt. Back in 2010, the Amarna project found an example of a woman buried with a cone shaped object on her head, (http://www.amarnaproject.com/documents/pdf/horizon-newsletter-7.pdf page 3 left hand side) this has led to a re-examination of the portrayal of this object in funerary art. eg http://www.demonthings.com/cones/
    amarnaproject.com - www.amarnaproject.com/documents/pdf/horizon-newsletter-7.pdf

  2. Is their an entire tranliteration done already? Or entire translation? Just wondering, before/or if I decide to do, Sm m Htp sn.i ( go in peace my brother)

  3. Damiyon Damo Everly Thanks for your enquiry - I do not know of a documented transliteration or full translation of the text on this stela, a preliminary search of the museum site does not yield any results from their online database (sadly this is not unusual).
    I haven't translated this particular piece because I find the colour difficult to read but am interested in your process for working on the piece if you would like to share it.
    Usually I write the text out in cursive hieroglyphs and transliterate under it (in the direction of the original text, much to my former tutor's confusion), but I probably should get more proficient in JSESH.


Post a Comment

To maintain the quality of discussion, please keep comments and questions on topic.