The Coffins of the Amun Priests
Exhibition and public restoration
Exhibition and public restoration The exhibition entitled “The coffins of the Priests of Amon”, organised jointly by the Museum of Leiden, the Vatican Coffin Project and the Musée du Louvre of Paris, was held in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden from 20 April till 15 September 2013. Three thousand years ago, the most powerful priests and priestesses of Ancient Egypt were buried in splendid painted coffins, all of them found inside a ‘hiding place’. The exhibition told the story of these individuals and the sensational discovery of their burial place more than 120 years ago. Special attention will be devoted to the restoration of the coffins now taking place in collaboration with the Vatican Museums and the Louvre. Every week, visitors can find restorers at work in the museum, prepared to answer questions from visitors.
The exhibition Coffins of the Amun Priests is about the priests and temple chantresses of Amun in Thebes, who held great power from 1069 to 945 BC. It was a period of political instability, power struggles, and social disorder. The monumental tombs were no longer safe from plunderers. To prevent the theft of burial goods of deceased temple attendants, the priests of Amun buried them in the concealed underground galleries of Bab el-Gasus (“the door of the priests”). There was not enough time or money for the usual rich wall decorations. Yet despite the simplicity of the tombs, the wooden coffins were decorated with beautiful, colourful paintings to provide the deceased with the symbols and spells that they would need in the afterlife.
In 1891, French Egyptologists found 153 sets of coffins in the tomb of Bab el-Gasus. The Egyptian authorities gave some of these coffins to seventeen countries, including the Netherlands, France, and Vatican City. Today, many of the coffins are in poor condition, with flaking paint and fading colours. In the international Vatican Coffin Project, the Vatican Museums, the Louvre, and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden are joining forces and pooling their expertise to study and restore the coffins of Bab el-Gasus using the latest technologies.
The researchers involved are analyzing each layer of paint to reconstruct the original colours, studying twentieth-century restorations, and investigating pigments and painting techniques to identify the styles of particular artists and work-shops.
This exhibition offers an introduction to these Priests of Amun, the story of their lives, their death and funeral rituals, and their later dispersion to museums in many countries.
The exhibition will emphasize the conservation/restoration research now taking place, which is yielding new information about the history of the coffins. Visitors can see the different steps of the restoration process in films and photographs and watch the restorers at work each week in a studio in the exhibition gallery.
The RMO is able to participate in the Vatican Coffin Project thanks to the annual support of the BankGiro Loterij.