At The Met: Daily Life In Death


Stable model from tomb of Meketre, Upper Egypt, 1981-1975 B.C.; plastered and painted wood, gesso. 

We have to be grateful that some civilizations from the past had such rich material cultures, and had beliefs in an life after death like the one just lived, with all its daily needs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a treasure trove in its collection of models from the tomb of Meketre, who was a royal steward during the 11th and 12th dynasties of the Middle Kingdom. You can see excellent hi resolution images, much better than my photos, of the dozen models in the Met's collection at the link. Twenty four models were found in a hidden chamber in 1920 by the Met's excavator, Herbert Winlock; the rest of the tomb had been plundered years before. The other dozen models went to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The details of stable and animals are beautifully observed, simple yet charming; we learn about how cattle are kept and fattened for slaughter.


Granary model from tomb of Meketre, Upper Egypt, 1981-1975 B.C.; wood, plaster, paint, linen, grain.

In this granary, men are emptying sacks of grain for storage. In the room in front, men are measuring grain and scribes are keeping accounts.


Garden model from tomb of Meketre, Upper Egypt, 1981-1975 B.C.; wood, paint, copper.

The most lovely model is that of a garden, but not just a place for contemplation of nature. There is a copper lined basin at its center, which I learned from the museum description is a libation basin, so a place of religious significance. 

Funerary Boat model from tomb of Meketre, Upper Egypt, 1981-1975 B.C.; wood, plaster, linen twine, and cloth.

This is such a beautiful piece of sculpture that even though it is not ordinary life, but a funerary ritual, a representation of a pilgrimage to the cult center of Abydos, I wanted to include it in this post. The shape of the boat with its upward curve and narrow ends mark it as an image of a papyrus vessel. The rowers have a sameness, yet are also individuals, making this piece fascinating to look at in detail. (here)

Goat pen model, Eastern Han dynasty, 25-220; earthenware with green lead glaze.

It wasn't only in Egypt that burial sites included models of everyday life. We are all familiar with the Chinese terracotta warriors found in a huge burial site for the first emperor of China. They are from about the same time as these earthenware models, which are very modest in comparison.


Animal pen model, Eastern Han dynasty, 25-220; earthenware with green lead glaze.

The models mostly picture animals, which must have been a very important part of the household. It's interesting to me that some of the animal pens were of a rounded shape.


Duck pond model, Eastern Han dynasty, 25-220; earthenware with green lead glaze.

Here is a decorative duck pond with four ducklings at its four corners.


Square pen with six rams model, Eastern Han dynasty, 25-220; earthenware with green lead glaze.

Six fat rams, the curves of their horns making a gentle rhythm, seem to be waiting for, looking at, something.


Mill, wellhead model, Eastern Han dynasty, 25-220; earthenware with green lead glaze.

I love the simplicity of forms in this piece, the round volumes held in by vertical walls and horizontal roof. These are not sophisticated works, but they have a strong visual presence, as do the Egyptian models in their own way. To realize that they were all made to be hidden away in a burial is rather startling, but these wonderful objects are now, happily for us, on view.