Saturday, April 1, 2017

Perfume Bottle of Hatshepsut

Many people will remember this perfume bottle in Germany's Bonn University Egyptian Museum from an article in 2009 about recreating the perfume by deconstructing the residue of its contents. There was big fanfare about it belonging to King Hatshepsut, and that the bottle was found among her belongings. I know of no excavation in which Hatshepsut's belongings were found except for her tomb in the Valley of the Kings which to my knowledge contained mostly damaged funerary goods.

The photo presents a good view of the bottles outline which bears no symmetry that I would expect from a royal vessel. A finer craftsman would have worked the simple bottle to a much more sharper finish. An object with a cartouche on it does not mean that it belonged to a king other than the technicality that everything belonged to the king. But, if you were Hatshepsut and wanted to reward a courtier for their loyalty would you give this shabby production.

This is not suitable for a queens dressing table, can you see this thing on Queen Victoria's dressing table or Queen Elizabeth's? I might suggest that the lord of the two lands would likely be furnished by the royal workshops and not with provincial mediocrity as is presented here. I would also suspect that such a vessel for a queen's boudoir might be made out of gold or silver such as Tutankhamun's double cartouche scent box.

In the tomb of Tutankhamun were found many vessels carved from alabaster including two shaped like lions, and though many of the vessels may be seen as gaudy all of them are the creation of the finest carvers. The Hatshepsut bottle in Bonn does not belong in the tradition of any of Tutankhamun's alabaster vessels, The bottle in Bonn does not belong to a royal tradition.

This tradition can be found in numerous examples of cosmetic vessels predating Hatshepsut from the Middle Kingdom in which some examples have been even carved of obsidian. A much more challenging medium to carve in than alabaster. This tradition of quality in cutting stone vessels goes back to the earliest dynasties leading up to the Old Kingdom.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has an amazing alabaster scent bottle in the form of a cat much more worthy a royal boudoir. Unfortunate that the object is without provenance.

I have little doubt that the Bonn bottle and its contents are indeed ancient and as a bottle without the cartouche that it would have had very little value as a souvenir. Carve Hatshepsut's cartouche on it and it becomes a royal object worth many, many times more than without. A definite motive for deception.

So what's wrong with the Hatshepsut cartouche?

The three characters include the elements of Hatshepsut's throne name including the element in the center of the goddess Maat, below the goddess we find the upraised hands of the Ka element and lastly on top the sun disk of the god Re. The hieroglyphs are correct it is the spacing here that is in question.

It seems that the engraver started with the cartouche outline followed by the Ka element which dominates almost half the space in the cartouche causing the Maat and Re elements to be crammed into the remaining space above. This element is also not centered. The flat base of the cartouche, the goddess, and the Re element have been drilled uncomfortably deep and even the cartouche outline is scratchy in appearance.

It is for me, however, the patina within all these engraved elements that is not right. If anything these details should be darker than the body yet there is signs the color of the patina has been damaged in the area of the cartouche as these engravings appear at least from this photograph to be lighter than the surface of the bottle itself. It is, of course, impossible to fully judge a work of art from one photograph as in this case the object appears to have been photographed with a light source above the bottle and this may interfere with the patina in the cartouche as photographed.

Whether I am right about the cartouche being fake or not the bottle's manufacture is beneath a royal purpose after all the king is citizen number one and as such worthy of the finest products the workshops produced, and for this reason alone, it is unlikely that Hatshepsut ever came in contact with this meager object.


Photograph Courtesy of Bonn University Egyptian Museum
Bonn University
Article on the bottle from National Geographic by Christine Dell'Amore 
Photo of Tutankhamun's waving lion bottle: Tour Egypt
Cat Cosmetic Vessel: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Links to more Perfume Bottles;
18th Dynasty perfume bottle: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Trussed ducks bottle: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Harry Burton photographs of vessels in Tutankhamun's tomb: The Griffith InstituteOxford University

No comments: