Last Updated 22 Mar 2021

Book of the Dead

Category Funeral, The Dead
Essay type Book Analysis
Words 1582 (6 pages)
Views 102

Book of the Dead: The Singer of Amun Nany’s Funerary Procession The Book of the Dead is a textual and visual piece of art that focuses on the funerary aspects of ancient Egypt. One of the parts I liked best in the Book of the Dead at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the scene of Nany and her passage to the afterlife. I am going to break down this section, and address the different characters and symbols, both formally and contextually. I will describe not just what is seen on the surface, but the underlying meanings behind the Funerary Nany and how it relates to the traditions of ancient Egypt art and life.

The Funerary Nany is written/painted on what I assume is a papyrus-like material. It is a light brown color and has a somewhat sandy/rough texture. In this funerary picture, not many colors are used. I’m not sure if colors faded or not, but it seems as if whoever painted it, purposely-used few colors. The primary color shown is green, perhaps to show importance. I’m assuming this because over the king’s shoulders in the bottom right section is a green garment, so I assume if that is important, all green shown in this picture is important, like the bird in the top register, and the human/animal (? in the bottom, middle register. I believe that figure to be king judging by the conventions of his throne and large hat. He is seated and has a staff, showing authority and power. Also, he appears to be slightly larger than the rest of the people on the bottom register, perhaps a convention to show rule. The only other color in this painting is red, seen on again what I assume is the king’s throne. There are slight shades of darker yellow/brown, but I don’t believe they have much meaning other than to separate people/objects from the background. Papyrus became an essential part of the funerary equipment and every Egyptian who could afford to acquire a copy was buried with it close at hand for use in the afterlife. ” Thus, Nany’s Funerary was painted on papyrus. It is also why so many examples have survived and why so much has been learned about the Book of the Dead, which has been called the Bible of Ancient Egypt. The size of this entire piece is quite long. It appears to be about a foot tall but about twenty feet long. It looks like it is telling a story due to the way it is presented.

For the entire piece, it alternates from paintings to texts (in probably hieroglyphics). Perhaps the texts describe the paintings presented to the viewer. That would make sense to me, almost like a storybook with pictures in it. And as it turns out, that is exactly what it is. Written on papyri and painted upon coffins in hieroglyphics, it was divided into chapters, each of which had its own title but no specific placement in the book. It was of the Theban Recension, a period in Egypt lasting from the eighteenth to twenty-second dynasty. This period focused around funerary stories. dbghghghh I am assuming that Nany is the woman with the bump in her “crown” on the top and bottom register. The woman is all the same person due to the way she is dressed and looks. The top register seems of less importance however, due to the scene presented and the size differentiation between the two registers. On the top, it looks as if Nany is walking along and coming across different obstacles or encounters of some kind. From the look of her hand gestures in the paintings it seems as if she is interacting with whatever these encounters are. The bottom register appears to be the last or most important encounter she faces.

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There is another woman next to her, perhaps an escort to the king. But in the middle is a scale of some type with two figures presented on each side. It is difficult to see what the two images are that are being measured. One side seems to be two people and the other a head. But I’m not quite sure. Or perhaps she is making a sacrifice in front of the king and he is determining whether her sacrifice is a worthy one or not, because all three of the people (including the animal-human creature) are looking at the king and he is looking at them…So perhaps there is a dialogue going on in some way.

There are texts with each painting in this section, which may be a description of what is going on. It turns out I was somewhat right in my description of the scene and what the hieroglyphics might say. Nany is the woman the whole way through. She is actually making her final journey towards the afterlife. Carol and Faulkner’s book identifies the other characters and symbols and what they represent in Egyptian art and life. Much of the Book of the Dead revolves around Ani (an ancient Egyptian scribe) and his journey to the afterlife.

The Ani procession is the largest, “most perfect,” and the best enlightened of all the papyri containing copies of the Theban Recension of the Book of the Dead. And when reading about it and observing the paintings, I noticed that much of it is the same, so I was able to compare the two stories. They are both weighing their hearts against the Maat, the goddess of justice and truth. Jackal-headed Anubis, one of the four sons of Horus, and overseer of mummification, adjusts the scales, while a baboon—symbolizing Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing—sits on the balance beam and prepares to write down the result.

Nany must pass this test in order to move on to the afterlife. If not, her heart will be eaten. On the bottom register behind Nany is Isis, wife and sister of Osiris. She is identified by the hieroglyphics. These characters are all an important part of the way in which ancient Egyptians viewed death and the afterlife. Sitting right before Osiris is a foreleg of an ox. According to Wilkinson’s book, the foreleg of an Ox is almost invariably included in mortuary offering scenes where it appears in a list of offerings. It is a symbol of royal and divine strength in Egypt.

The way the artist makes these people look doesn’t seem to be as if he was trying to make anyone in the paintings look too idealized. There are no apparent abstractions that throw your focus to any particular piece of the work too strongly. The location of this particular piece of art was a bit secluded. I realized that after we broke off as a group at the Met when I, as well as two of my classmates practically got lost trying to retrace our steps back to the artwork. It was a very dark, empty location of the Ancient Egypt section.

I am guessing the darkness intended to put focus on the funerary element of the work, as well as other works around it. Next to the Funerary Nany was the Tomb of Meritamen and Nany’s Funerary Papyri, both of which seem to have correlations with this Nany piece. So it seems that they put related people and objects around each other, to keep everything orderly and relevant in the museum. In conclusion, there are many factors that play into each and every detail put into works of art like this. These details painted a picture for me in my formal analysis of the work and tell a lot about how the piece was made and why.

Ancient Egyptians had a meaning for everything they put in the Book of the Dead and all of their art. Each symbol they used had a significant impact on their life and beliefs. In their art, there are connections between many different paintings and texts that relate to each other, and all draw back to a common belief and way of life in Egypt. I am not exactly sure why I chose to analyze The Book of the Dead over the rest of the pieces of art. I think that just when I looked at my options, I felt I had more to say about this piece of work than any of the others.

I saw a story in it. I felt I could talk about it clearer and understand it more than the other pieces, and that is what I believe ultimately led to my decision.


  1. Andrews, Carol, and Raymond O. Faulkner. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.
  2. Budge, E A. W. The Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of Ani. New York, N. Y: Carol Pub. Group, 1990.
  3. Wilkinson, Richard. Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992
  4. Carol Andrews and Raymond Faulkner, The Ancient Book of the Dead (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 16-17.
  5. E. A. Budge, The Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of Ani (New York: Carol Pub. Group, 1990), 3-4.
  6. Budge, Book of the Dead, ix.
  7. Andrews and Faulkner, Ancient Book of the Dead, 14.
  8. Budge, Book of the Dead, 240.
  9. Richard Wilkinson, Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), 75.

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