Revisiting the Nemes Crown

It’s been over two years since I began making the first Nemes crown to interest my son in Ancient Egyptian history. Since then the posts on my thoughts and process have been viewed many times more than I could have anticipated. Initially, they were getting too few views to persist with, but I did. I was entrenched in a 12 hour a day job in hospitality and believed that if I didn’t keep blogging that I’d lose whatever ground I had made with it and perhaps forget how to write. I had to publish something. Reading over them the other day I cringed. What has made them so popular?

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I ended up making two crowns as I wasn’t happy with the first and blogging about both of them. What intrigued me at the time was the difference between Tutankhamen’s crown and other King/Pharaoh’s. There was the uraeus and vulture coupling at the forehead and the ponytail at the back. I encountered many considerations in making them sit evenly:-

  • should I use a support for the fabric – as starching fabric didn’t come into use until about the 16th century CE in Europe
  • ensuring that the stripes presented correctly
  • ensuring that the shoulder lappets stood perpendicular to the face and sat on the shoulders
  • ensuring the lappets didn’t flap
  • and an unexpected one, making sure that the crown didn’t ride back.

I had to consider the possibility that the golden crown was a figurative representation of a religious idea – that the pharaoh shone golden light. The problem was in choosing a fabric – what colour should the stripes be – golden thread and applique would not come into use until the time of the Romans.

With all of these considerations, wouldn’t it all be easier if it was made out of gold? And if it was to be gold why didn’t they just bury it with him when the time came?

Two years down the track and I’m faced with another possibility. Recently there has been an announcement that the artefacts from King Tutankhmen’s tomb will be making their way Down Under in 2021. Very exciting news – more work for me. You see, if I were to take my son to see the exhibition wearing either of the Nemes Crowns that I made, he would look ridiculous. He has out grown them already. Twelve years old when I made them, he is now nearly fifteen. His age coincides with that of King Tut when he reigned. If Tutankhamen wore a linen Nemes crown then several must have been made for him over the course of his reign. I wonder whether there will be a few in the exhibition if any at all.

I hypothesized at the time that perhaps King Tut never wore a cloth Nemes Crown. As a child growing up, wouldn’t it be convenient to have an official pharaonic mask and crown that someone else could wear on ceremony for him? How awe-inspiring could a child-king be? Could this be the idea that has inspired interest in visitors to this blog?

Or could it be questions about the coupling of the vulture and uraeus. Looking at many images through Lionel Casson’s Time-Life Books, Ancient Egypt,  and confirming my suspicions with google image searches, and Pinterest searches I noticed that the vulture on his Nemes Crown only appears on his funerary artifacts – something that he couldn’t have arranged for himself. Why would his successor, Ay, have instigated this? Was it politically motivated to present a united Egypt – each animal representing a different half of Egypt? Did it have more to do with added protection for the boy-king in the afterlife?

What I’ve taken away from the exercise which saw me comparing crowns from different eras of Egyptian history is the belief that in the Old Kingdom Nemes crowns were linen and the king didn’t necessarily have to wear a uraeus. By the time of the New Kingdom –  I will believe until I get to that exhibition in 2021 – the uraeus was entrenched in the presentation of the Pharoah and his crown was made of gold.

An index to all of my Nemes Crown related posts appears at the end of the post, King Tut’s Crown: A Lapidary Jeweller’s Perspective.

My interview with History of Egypt podcaster, Dominic Perry, appears here. I was listening to this wonderful podcast while I was crafting and researching my ideas. Joyce Tydlesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse and Carl Roebuck’s World of Ancient Times were also very informative and thought provoking.

Now my challenge is to write something just as interesting, if not more.

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Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns

After 2 disappointing attempts at making the Nemes crown out of fabric, I had to review my methods and question whether I was able to pull it off. Was there another way? To determine this I had to go over the problems I faced. I could list them:

 

 

  • The colours – gold and blue – how were they achieved supposedly before gold thread and applique were used in making fabrics and clothing?

I had to look at the way flax is processed into linen. The peasant  girl was rumoured to have spun flax into gold. Why flax, Rumpelstiltskin? Treated with care, flax can be golden and must be dyed/bleached white once woven into fabric. What if the purest strands of flax were selected and only they were spun into strips of gold?

Could the blue stripes have been painted on like the linen designs in the following video on linen production? Would the blue ink/dye used bleed into the gold sections? We know that the ancient Egyptians used blue ink on their papyrus scrolls, could they have made the fabric of the crown out of alternating strips of linen and papyrus? Both linen and papyrus are made from organic reeds, were they compatible enough to be sewn together into a single cloth?

Video on the processes used to turn flax into linen. This shows the more hands on process used by the Irish in the 1940s.

  • How was the stiffness of the lappets achieved?

To keep the lappets stiff metal rods could have been sewn onto them. But this would add a drag towards the back of the head because of the weight and position of the rods. Doubling the thickness of the fabric made the crown cumbersome and backside heavy. An extra layer of fabric wouldn’t necessarily give the effect of stiff and flush-flat lappets as can be seen in my second attempt where I didn’t employ the rods. If the gold rods were used then the lappets wouldn’t have needed golden linen to make up the gold stripes.

To get around the problem of the crown creeping back under its weight I wanted to fit it in place with a tight metal tiara over the fabric and around the forehead. This would squash the lappets down but change the look – the flaying would begin from around the ears. It was out of the question.

  • Could they have made the crown in two separate pieces – a skull-cap/ helmet/ milliner’s form – beneath that was then fitted with the lappets and ponytail?

Would this have kept the back of the crown lightweight enough not to drag the whole crown back? Perhaps not? But what if the skull-cap were made of metal and the linen and rod or doubled-over linen Nemes crown were fitted over it and secured in place – by rivets along the tiara’s front? A solid uraeus and vulture could be then riveted or screwed into place through the fabric into the metal cap achieving the look of the floating totems above the tiara? Possible. The metal form would replace my plastic collander.

  • Could the milliner’s form have been made of metal that sat beneath the crown?

Would this solve the creeping back problem? Would attaching the beard from the tiara to the chin add enough weight combined with the weight of the uraeus to steady the whole crown and sit it properly on the head? How would they have attached the chin from the tiara without the relevant cords being seen? Was the glint of the gold so strong that the cords were camouflaged in the light?

I can’t help thinking that the easiest – least fiddly way of achieving the look would have been to make it out of gold.

Coming up  – my lapidary jeweller’s perspective on the making of the golden Nemes Crown and how the way it was made may shed light on whose mask Tutankhamen wore and whether the crown he was buried with was made for his burial.

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Death Mask

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

 

 

5. Making the Nemes Crown cont… Lappets

A question of gravity, currency, and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

Once the cloth covering of the nemes crown and its ponytail was complete I encountered my next obstacle. Under the added weight of fabric, cords and the hollow numchuck form, the crown kept falling back. It wouldn’t sit straight or actually stay on. I had to balance the weight of the front of the crown with that of the back.

The uraeus and vulture on the forehead alone didn’t solve the problem.I decided to attach the beard to the front of the form with hat elastic. This was the trick.

I wondered whether the ancient Egyptians had the same problem? Did Pseusennes I (1047-1001 BCE, 21st Dynasty) have the same problem?

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Death Mask of Pseusennes I

Are those pencil-line side burns sported by Pseusennes, stylized beard straps meant to balance the weight of the crown?

Now that my crown was sitting squarely in place it should have looked right, but it didn’t. There was something about the lappets – the long flappy bits that hang by the side of the pharaoh’s face. Flappy, they shouldn’t have been. Stiff, triangular – pyramidal, in histoy they appear to rigidly frame the face before reaching down over the shoulders from the chin. There is no movement – no flow of diaphanous fabric (okay, I realise this is Ancient Egypt, not Ancient Greece, but was everything as stiff as their statues would indicate?)

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The lappets of my crown didn’t unerringly frame my son’s face. They didn’t necessarily sit obediently, implacably on his shoulders – they twisted and curled. They needed the disciplinary action of a hard rod. Several actually. I set to work adding rods through the shoulder section of the lappet. I did the lower portion only, wanting to make sure the weight of the crown stayed forward and believing this was the minimum required to solve my dilemma. Time poor, I added a coin to help weigh them down –  something that is done in costuming now and again.

Coins are so convenient, smooth and readily available to use as clothing weights. Would the Ancient Egyptians have used their currency as such a cheat? We are told they didn’t have coins – it was a barter economy. Dominic Perry of the Ancient Egypt History Podcast has suggested that linen may have been used instead of coins. Now I couldn’t cheat with linen but what about a few heavy beads? Beads have been used for bartering in Africa for centuries. Could the Ancient Egyptians also have used them as money? Would Ancient Egyptian seamstresses weighed down their clothing with beads?

Now that I had weighed down my flapping lappets, they towed the line. Did the Ancient Egyptian crown makers need rods for their lappets? Is that why the nemes crown was stripped?

Something started niggling at me. Gold rods low on lappets, lapis locks and lapidary allusions . . . King Khafre! my next post.

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Photo Credits

Pseusennes I

Death Mask of Pseusennes I, the Silver Pharoah (1047-1001 BCE 21st Dynasty)

Photo credit:https://www.flickr.com/photos/ddenisen/7364438180/

D.Denisen CC BY-SA

 

King Khafre Statue

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY