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Relief featuring blind harpist

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

This singing, blind harpist forms part of a famous relief featuring a small group of musicians brightening the tomb owner’s dinner. This relief is to be found in the funerary chapel of Paatenemheb, who is pictured on a companion relief, having a family dinner with his wife Tipui and their two daughters. In those days this was a beloved motif in funerary art. A priest making an offering completes the scene. He is pouring out water and burning incense in a cleansing ritual.
The funerary chapel these reliefs form part of is an example of the many tombs in the necropolis of Memphis, near Saqqara. The relief decorations are applied on blocks of various widths stacked in courses. The top course of the three is missing at present, leaving a total of 35 blocks featuring decorations, always covered with two or three registers.
Both the theme and the perfectly executed raised relief technique are an indication that the tomb must have been made during Tutankhamen’s or Horemheb’s reign. The song the harpist is singing is written out in hieroglyphs above the orchestra. Its ending is rather disenchanted, but this is precisely what makes it an exhortation to enjoy life: ‘The Peaceful One [Osiris] does not heed people’s pleas and lamenting does not save anyone from the grave.’

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