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"Posno" Sarcophagus at Masterpiece 2012 London Egyptian Polychrome Wood and Gesso
June 22, 2012  | 
Collected in Egypt in the late 19th century by Gustav Posno, a Dutch jeweler and one of the foremost collectors of his time, this three-piece ensemble offers a rare opportunity to acquire an important work of Egyptian art in exceptional condition.  Mr. Posno first exhibited his collection in 1874, and in 1883, in a highly anticipated sale at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris, most of it entered the collections of the Louvre and of other important European museums.  This ensemble, which was not offered at the time, remained with Mr. Posno’s heirs until 2004.

On the lid, the heart-shaped face with its idealizing features is dominated by large, wide-open eyes, and equally large ears, their relative proportions intended to provide unimpeded sight and hearing in the hereafter.  The tripartite wig is held in place by a wide diadem with a lotus flower.  Below, the separately-made hands which project over the floral, broad collar allude to the occupant’s regained tactile abilities.  The remainder of the lid is divided into a number of registers filled with vignettes that represent abbreviated versions of those normally associated with the walls of tombs.  These were all meant to facilitate entry and permanence in the hereafter.  Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, the sky goddess Nut, scarab beetles, and ba-birds are all represented.  The mummy board and coffin display these and other related figures and symbols.

The Posno Sarcophagus represents an important chapter in the history of ancient Egyptian funerary art.  Throughout Dynasty XXI (ca. 1000-900 BC), a time of political upheaval when the tombs of the rich and famous pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings were systematically looted, the Egyptian elite at Thebes consciously chose to depict the extraordinary array of funerary images and inscriptions on their sarcophagi rather than on the walls of sumptuously decorated tombs.  These sarcophagi were then complete, containing all the necessary spells and images necessary in the hereafter, making them self-sufficient and independent from other funerary equipment, which might eventually be unavailable.  This development, for a relatively brief period of time, brought about the most ornate and beautifully decorated sarcophagi in ancient Egypt. 

Wood with extensive gesso and polychromy Third Intermediate Period, Thebes (Deir el-Bahari) Dynasty XXI (ca. 1000-900 BC) Height: 73.5 inches (187 cm)  PROVENANCE: Gustav Posno Collection, Cairo, Egypt, acquired in the second half of the 19th century, thence by descent to his great-grandson R. A. Posno until 2004.  CONDITION: A crack running from the top of the proper right hand base through the middle of the lid all the way down to the feet has been filled and meticulously repainted. Minor patches with minimal restoration throughout.  Steady and stable.

For more information:
Luciano deMarsillac
Safani Gallery
7 East 75th Street, Suite 2D
New York, NY 10021