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Model Boat with Figures


Model Boat with Figures
Model Boat with Figures
2133-1786 B.C.
Polychromed wood
The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

Key Ideas

Model Boat with Figures

Discussion Questions

In the Egyptian approach to life, art and religion were inseparable. All aspects of life were conditioned and guided by belief in the afterlife and immortality. Egyptian funerary art had the magical and vital function of ensuring that the dead person was fully equipped for life in the afterworld. Grave goods found in the Middle Kingdom have included food, furniture, and wooden figurines of offering-bearers and other servants performing tasks intended to provide essential services and commodities.

In the ancient Egyptians' view, the continued existence of the world and its inhabitants depended to a large degree on the fulfillment of natural cycles. Human life was also viewed as cyclical which, like the re-emergence of the sun each dawn, would be endlessly repeated throughout eternity. Life on earth was a transient but necessary stage; death was regarded not as an end, but merely as the next stage towards another type of existence.1 Within this universal scheme, the god Osiris symbolized the creative forces and cyclical renewal of nature. He was considered as the great benefactor who brought the knowledge of agriculture and civilization to humanity. The Osiris cult appealed to the emotions of common people, and provided even to them a way to attain eternal life. For many centuries a miracle play was held annually at Abydos, in which the sufferings, death and resurrection of Osiris were reenacted, an event that drew thousands of people from every part of Egypt.

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from the Model Boat with Figures

Mast Black, helmet-shaped wigs and heavy black eyeliner Eighteen Oarsmen Mount for steering oar

Model Boat with Figures
This model boat, equipped with eighteen oarsmen, a mast and a mount for the steering oar, comes from a tomb near Meir in Egypt. All the component pieces were carved from wood and painted in color, some of which remains. The boat would have had carefully painted details of deck planking and structural beams. It is an accurate representation of vessels used in daily life on the Nile. The figures, too, are fairly realistic. As is conventional in ancient Egyptian art, the bodies of male figures are painted red. The figures all wear black, helmet-shaped wigs, and most of their faces still show the heavy black eyeliner all Egyptians commonly wore.2

Miniature boats form the largest single category of models found in the tombs of the Old and Middle Kingdom periods. Boats were important to Egyptian commerce, which was centered on the Nile River. They were used for transportation, for fishing and for netting wild fowl. Boats also played a major role in religion, because the gods used them to travel across the sky and through the underworld.

Sometimes two boats were provided, one with a mast (for sailing south, against the current) and one with only oarsmen (for sailing north, with the current). Since this boat has a mast, it must have had to sail south. Originally it may have had an awning as protection from the bright sun.

1 See the excellent description in John H. Taylor, Death and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001). Return to Text
2 During all periods and all dynasties in Egyptian history, eye makeup was used daily by both men and women. A preparation of kohl was applied with a stick and extended the lower line of the eye. Kohl possessed disinfectant and fly-deterrent properties, and may have provided protection from the intense sun. Return to Text

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