Gold Rods Low on Lappets, Lapis Locks and Lapidary Allusions . . . King Khafre!

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King Khafre – Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty c.2570BC

Who said nothing ever changed in Ancient Egypt? The Nemes Crown did, or so a comparison of these two images suggest.

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Death Mask- New Kingdom 18th Dynasty c.1345BCE

I love King Khafre’s Nemes Crown, it seems to answer my question of bald pate or milliners form? It is very different to Tutankhamun’s. Tutankhamun’s crown looks like it should be made in gold, Khafre’s courts linen. Why? Well it appears that the milliner’s form is exposed to view, above his pate, scaffolding the linen. Then low down,exposed metal rods of likely gold weigh down and set the linen lappets in stiff perpendicular lines against his face.

“Appears” to support my idea of using a form to give the iconic shape to the crown. I would so love this to be the case. The problem is that I haven’t seen the statue in real life nor have I read an art historian’s appraisal of it. Are the four vertical lines ascending from the crown over Khafre’s head the exposed form holding the linen on or are they the remains of a uraeus that hasn’t stood the test of time? The missing portions of his left leg and arm have added a deflating overtone to my hypothesis – quite possibly the uraeus has broken off. But if so, did it really break off so cleanly, with no swirls of its serpentine stance?

If you humour me my hypothesis I’d like to suggest that perhaps this early version of the Nemes Crown was made of linen dyed the blue of lapis. It was then hooked onto a metal form that descended over his forehead. The linen would represent his hair in a very stylised manner. The king would then live up to traditional propaganda that he had hair of lapis lazuli. 

Where would the Ancient Egyptians have gotten dye that colour? Pulverised lapis lazuli perhaps? Could the sanded down grains be pulverised and mixed with a medium that would adhere to linen? Could they? Just a suggestion – an uneducated guess.

If those early Nemes crowns were of linen then perhaps the king didn’t have a bald head but wore his crown over his long locks as in this earlier statue of King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty. His pointy lappets cover his hair. In the Old Kingdom there was an office in the royal household for the Royal Hairdresser. Has my impression that Egyptain pharaohs were bald descended on me via the bald Yul Brynner playing Rameses? If later kings of Egypt had hair it doesn’t seem to have been depicted in their extant art. 

Djoser’s Nemes crown is interesting in that it doesn’t sport a uraeus but does have a striped pattern over his forehead. Feint horizontal lines can be discerned moving across the lower lappets. Both Djoser and Khafre’s crowns appear bereft of the uraeus. Did they not wear them with this crown in the Old Kingdom? Could they not attach such heavy ornaments to the linen body of the crown?

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab, 3rd Dynasty, c.2575 BCE

I believe that the Nemes Crown kept evolving – almost as slowly as evolution. By the time of the New Kingdom, not only were the Nemes Crowns gold but the monarch wore a gold mask to have skin of gold as the folklore of the time led the people to believe.

Next up – my second attempt at making the Nemes Crown and why I believe the king wore a gold metal crown and face mask

Photo Credit: King Khafre

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Photo Credit: King Tutenkhamun’s Death Mask

Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Photo credit: King Djoser

Photo credit: HannahPethen via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

1. Intro to Making Tutankhamen’s Nemes Crown

“He had grown old: his bones became silver; his flesh, gold; his hair of lapis lazuli . . .” (1)

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The Death Mask and Crown of Tutankhamun(2)

When I look at the death mask of Tutankhamun with the view to recreate it, the first question I have to ask myself is how much is it artistic representation? The Ancient Egyptians were notorious for using art as propaganda. How much of it was gold or lapis lazuli? How much was cloth? donkey or goat hair? faience (an ancient mouldable glass with properties apparently similar to clay)?

Egyptologists tell us that Nemes crowns were made of linen, a fabric the ancient Egyptians were adept at spinning coarsely and diaphanously finely. But not all of it could have been made of this material. Notice the two creatures in the centre of the young king’s forehead? They at least must have been fashioned of something more pliable than cloth. And what were they attached to – a tiara of gold?

What about the ponytail that gathers the cloth at the nape of the king’s neck? Is it supposed to represent cloth cords? papyrus ones? a metal sprung coil?

King Tut's Mask

Rear view of Tutankhamun’s Death Mask and Crown (3)

Before I go any further I must disclose my bias: I have worked and trained as a lapidary jeweller. This colours my first thoughts on how this crown and mask were made – how I want for it to have been made. This experience has also  influenced the steps that I took in recreating it as a theatrical costume.

When I look at Tutankhamun’s crown and mask, I see three sections: the crown and its lappets fanning out from his face; his face as a mask behind it; and an enormous inlaid necklace draped around his chest which I believe is a representation of another bib-style necklace that he wore in life, a beaded one. Inlaid jewellery is stiff and so impractical for movement. Strung beads however allow fluidity of movement.

This then invites me to question the beard of this young man, one very similar to another worn by his famous predecessor Hatshepsut. Surely neither Tutankhamun nor Hatshepsut grew their own beards! Did they wear fake ones of goat hair? Wouldn’t one of inlaid Lapis Lazuli or moulded faience have had greater impact and durability?

And then there is that ponytail. Is it bound together with cords of linen, wrapped over and over? Or could it have been a simple copper, silver or gold coil that the fabric was easily pulled through and held securely in place?

Finally, the look of a Nemes Crown made of linen would not have been gold and blue; gold thread hadn’t been invented yet and it would be another 1500 years or so before it was used in Roman era appliques. Of all of the crowns of Egypt, this style is the least ostentatious. Was this part of his everyday wear?

If we could play at being archaeologists on a hunt for the missing crown what would we be looking for? Striped linen cloth attached to a tiara with a couple of token sized totems protruding from the forehead? A coil of cord or wire for a ponytail and a fancy hair beard or an ornate one of faience encased in gold or silver?

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The Crafty Theatre Nemes Crown is posted on the Crafty Theatre facebook page(4)

How much is this famous image propaganda – the “would be god” with his hair shining with the rays of Ra and lapis lazuli, and his skin with the flesh of gold? This is just a taste of Ancient Egyptian propaganda, used even on a coffin and death mask. What about those animal figurines that protrude from the forehead? What are they ? What do they symbolise? Why did Tutankhamun wear two of them and only at the time of his death? What can they tell us of the state of his reign at the time of his death?

Next time : 2.Making the Nemes Crown:Snake and Vulture

Photos and References

(1) As read by Eric Wells on his Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt Podcast, 28th December, 2015, The Festival of Drunkenness and the Destruction of Mankind

(2) Photo Credit, King Tut’s Mask, Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/  Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/  CC BY-SA

(3)Photo Credit King Tut’s Death Mask and Crown, back view:

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/24060770906/”>Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

(4 )https://www.facebook.com/CraftyTheatre/