Two hundred and fifty eight

Perfume Vessel

c1333 BC
From tomb of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Dozens of perfume vases were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, all made of this milky alabaster and all topped with life-like and intriguing interpretations of the ancient Gods. The vases, decorated with gold and cartouches (the frame that indicated a Pharaoh’s name – in this case reading Tutankhamun), are similar in style and shape to those vessels that bore Tutankhamun’s organs. During the mummification process the organs were removed – the heart, the liver, the stomach, the lungs and the brain – then washed and preserved in scented jars. These organ jars were stored in an elaborately decorated trunk found in the burial chamber, also on display in the museum. It is telling of how the Egyptians saw their bodies after death that these organs would be similarly encased as precious scents and perfumes, such as lotus and papyrus flower; they were considered part of the treasure provided for the afterlife. The actual organs were necessary for re-birth; without every single one resurrection would be impossible. This perfume vase features the God Bes, protector of households and particularly important to women and children. He originated as a lion, literally symbolising protection, but developed a humorous persona due to his responsibilities towards the mother and child. Like a jester he was meant to entertain women during childbirth, waving and sticking out his tongue, distracting them from the trials they were to go through. Likewise, for the children he provided humour and distraction to entertain them in their early age; Bes was considered as the very first ‘babysitter’. The detail and reasoning into God Bes’s role shows just how considered the Egyptian Gods’ responsibilities were; there was someone to look after everything – many faces to the one force that governed Ancient Egypt.

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