Hi! My name is Ashley Farmer and I’m an educator at the UMFA.
This piece, a tomb stele, might remind you of contemporary headstones that we see at gravesites today. This one, however, is adorned with symbols and a story. In the first line, or register, a husband and wife present offerings of food and drink to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife. Now, spend a moment with the second register. What do you imagine is happening in this scene?
It’s here where we see the husband and wife now seated in the afterlife, something symbolized by the lotus flower in hand. The eldest son, depicted to the right, is now charged with providing offerings to his departed parents. This responsibility would have taken the form of him regularly bringing grave goods to his parents’ burial site. While we don’t know to whom this tomb stela belonged—the name is no longer visible on the side of the object where it would normally be located—we do know something about this individual’s belief system and, possibly, his family.
Beyond the story being told, what else do you notice about this work of art? For instance, what does the rough texture with its chips and scuffs tell us about the object? What does it tell us about the material from which it was made? Consider the artists’ fine lines and detailed markings: what kind of skills might the artist have needed to employ? And: what do you think the artist might have been thinking about during the process of creating this?
Finally, consider what it might be like if you were to create a tomb stele of your own, one that depicted your personal beliefs about the afterlife. What colors, symbols, and images might you use? What would you hope that people many years from now might understand about your beliefs?