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Coffin of the Lady of the House, Weretwahset, Reinscribed for Bensuipet Containing Face Mask and Openwork Body Covering

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Special Exhibitions, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
Color played a key role in gender transformation in the tomb. The representation of this woman on her coffin with red skin, a characteristic considered to be male, was a magical intervention that transformed her gender. This coffin’s red face, hands, and feet invested her with the male power to create a fetus for her own rebirth.

The yellow cartonnage mask, in direct contact with the mummy, altered her gender role once again. Yellow skin represented the skin of a goddess made from gold. Now, returned to her original female state, she incubated the male-created fetus, gave birth in the tomb, and lived forever in the next world as a woman.

Language transformed a woman’s gender, a necessary step in creating her own fetus inside the coffin. In Egyptian, the word meaning you had both masculine and feminine forms. The arrow in the illustration points to an inscription that reads, “Words spoken by Imsety … I protect you.” The deity Imsety, represented on the left, pronounced this sentence using the male pronoun for you rather than the female pronoun. These words are repeated four times on the coffin’s sides. It was believed that the miraculous power of language to transform reality could be used to change an individual’s gender.

Scholars had long called this usage a mere grammatical error. Feminism influenced scholars to take this Egyptian practice seriously by adopting a broader view of gender, rather than dismissing the usage as a mistake. More recent scholarship recognizes that the male pronoun on this woman’s coffin represented powerful magic that caused gender transformation.

MEDIUM Wood, painted (fragments a, b); Cartonnage, wood (fragment c; cartonnage (fragment d)
  • Possible Place Made: Thebes (Deir el Medina)
  • DATES ca. 1292-1190 B.C.E.
    DYNASTY early XIX Dynasty
    PERIOD New Kingdom
    DIMENSIONS 37.47Ea-b Box with Lid in place: 25 3/8 x 19 11/16 x 76 3/16 in. (64.5 x 50 x 193.5 cm) 37.47Ea Coffin Box: 11 3/4 x 19 11/16 x 73 3/4 in., 70 lb. (29.8 x 50 x 187.3 cm, 31.8kg) 37.47Eb Coffin Lid: 14 3/16 x 19 11/16 x 76 3/16 in., 50 lb. (36 x 50 x 193.5 cm, 22.7kg) 37.47Ec Mask: 7 1/4 x 14 1/4 x 24 7/16 in. (18.4 x 36.2 x 62 cm) 37.47Ed Body  (show scale)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Special Exhibitions, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
    ACCESSION NUMBER 37.47Ea-d
    CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Coffin of the Lady of the House, Weretwahset, Reinscribed for Bensuipet Containing Face Mask and Openwork Body Covering, ca. 1292-1190 B.C.E. Wood, painted (fragments a, b); Cartonnage, wood (fragment c; cartonnage (fragment d) , 37.47Ea-b Box with Lid in place: 25 3/8 x 19 11/16 x 76 3/16 in. (64.5 x 50 x 193.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.47Ea-d. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 37.47Ea-b_PS1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 37.47Ea-b_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2007
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Lower half of a painted wooden coffin and the painted cartonnage (containing part of the mummy) of a woman. The piece was usurped. In the column of text on the lower front of the cartonnage is written the name with the first part of the name being left blank (or erased if an earlier name appeared here). On the coffin the name is written more completely: Bns'wipt var. (B(n)s'wipt. Also visible, in several place underneath this name is what may possible be read Wr.t-w'h-(s'w). The cartonnage has a double wig. The sides of the coffin are decorated with representations of funerary deities with accompanying texts. Fragments of a bouquet of Persea leaves found in the coffin. The coffin box is identified as 37.47Ea. The coffin lid is identified as 37.47Eb. The mask is identified as 37.47Ec. The openwork body covering is identified as 37.47Ed.
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