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. Themetal 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.

king tut

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

 

 

A Second Attempt at the Nemes Crown

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Something just didn’t look right with my first attempt at making the Nemes Crown of Ancient Egypt. I knew I didn’t quite get it right but I didn’t know why. I looked again at several Nemes Crowns from different angles. The idea of the Nemes Crown being the shape of the Great House, the Pyramid, the Pharoah, faltered and I realised that I missed a very important feature of the crown and mask – the ears. They are exposed.  The crown has been designed to sit behind them, framing them – kind of like the hood of a cobra.

Bite me

Cobra

Was the Nemes crown supposed to be a stylized hood, a personified uraeus/cobra transforming the person of the king? Kings liked to refer to their majesty and person as a uraeus e.g., Hatshepsut on the Speos Artimedos temple. What part of their religion had I missed that personified the God-Pharoah-King as a cobra? A uraeus? or perhaps the cobra goddess Wadjet? The kings and pharaohs had many names/titles and one of them was dedicated to the Goddesses Wadjet (the cobra) and Nekhbet (the vulture). Tutankhamen seems to have been saluting both of them by wearing ornaments of both on his Nemes Crown. But would he also try to depict himself as some form of Cobra/Uraeus with his headdress being the snake’s hood? There is a wonderful Middle Egyptian text that depicts a prince as a huge snake with the trappings of a king – gold skin, lapis hair, bones of gold – The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor.

Having already made a Nemes crown with my interpretation of Wadjet and Nekhbet, this time around I settled for a plain and simple uraeus. I gave up on the idea of finding gold and blue striped fabric and settled for white and gold instead. This time the lappets sat behind the ears. I lined the fabric and chose a diaphanous white and gold fabric for the visible parts of the crown.

The doubled over fabric made the lappets heavier, stiffer and reduced the flapping around. A choice of a heavier fabric still doubled over would have been more effective again but would have increased the weight to the back of the crown. The balance would be lost and it would slip back again. Perhaps this thin fabric over the lightish cotton fabric would create stiffness enough?

Trying to keep the weight to the back down to a minimum I didn’t use the numb-chuck form to create the ponytail this attempt but plaited the fabric and wrapped it in cords. Regardless, the crown was pulling  back even more than last time. Strapping on the beard this time didn’t give it the necessary forward pressure to anchor it. I had to use a second length of hat elastic to balance out the weight from back to front and to keep it on.


Again something wasn’t sitting well with me. Too much exposed hair. The crown had to descend lower to his ears. And the shape was wrong. The front top of it was too squarish, it needed to follow the shape of the forehead and pate more.

I knew what I did wrongly but couldn’t think of a different way. I  relied too much on my own interpretation of 2D images of the crown – these flattened and made squarish what I saw. I went with an upright front again chosing corrugated cardboard to steady the uraeus and keep it in place. I wanted to be assured that my stripes were as striking and precisely placed as they are in the originals. The cardboard backing gave me this but couldn’t seamlessly, smoothly follow the pate as well. To appear more accurate I should have wired the uraeus directly onto the structural form (the plastic colander). Had I done that I fear that I would have lost the precision of the stripes when I had to cover the form.

What I needed to achieve the striking appearance of the stripes and a smoothly moulded forehead was a material with both tensile strength and malleability – like metal or papier-mâché.

It needed more weight to the front. Longer lappets perhaps that sat lower onto his chest with heavier rods? A weightier uraeus? A solid beard with a more substantial attachment to the form? A tighter fitting form? These could all help a little but I couldn’t help feeling that I was using sticky-tape solutions to a greater problem that would best be served by different structural materials. This former jeweller couldn’t get the idea out of her head that metal – gold – would be the easiest if the most economically impractical solution. Was there a better way?

Next time: Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns, conjecturing a more malleable, organic solution.

Photo Credit

Cobra  – Photo credit: aftab. via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

2. Making the Nemes Crown: Snake and Vulture

Arch, poised to stike, the deadly cobra sits in the middle of the Pharoah’s forehead. Which Pharoah? Each and every pharoah and king of Egypt it seems from Narmer in the Old Kingdom all the way down to Cleopatra, a couple of thousand years later. So what is King Tut doing putting a bird next to it? Even his heretic father, Akenaten didn’t do that. It seems that this combination of snake and bird is idiosyncratic to Tutankhamun and perhaps his wife, Ankhesenamun. If I was to recreate Tutankhamun’s look accurately then I had to figure out what the bird was and to satisfy my curiosity, why he broke with tradition to wear it.

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Shabti of Tutankhamen- with the two animals on his crown

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Not all images of his crown gave clear enough visuals. Was it a hawk – a representation of Horus?

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Horus, the Hawk/Falcon god of Egypt

Photo credit: Xuan Che via Foter.com / CC BY

Or was it a vulture, the deadly nemesis of a snake? Royal women wore vultures on their crowns. Sometimes they wore the cobra (uraeus) in assuming the role of King e.g., Hatshepsut or sometimes not, e.g., the Primary Wife of the King Amenhotep III, Queen Tiy, wore 2 cobras. Cleopatra VII wore three.

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Cleopatra VII, wearing three Uraeus’.

Photo credit: Tiffany Silva via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Why a cobra? The cobra was a symbol of Lower Egypt, the Nile Delta where it could be found. It was a protective motif that was known as the uraeus. Interestingly enough, when Kings referred to themselves they associated their identity with their “uraeus”. Some crucial part of their personality, spirit or soul they considered to be a cobra, a uraeus.

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Canopic Container of Tutankhamun – a vulture and cobra it seems

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Tutankhamun coupled his uraeus uniquely with a vulture. Why? The vulture was a symbol of Upper Egypt. It was also the incarnation of the Goddess Nekbet, she who was the protectoress of royal children.(1) Was Tutankhamun ill? In need of protection? As a royal child was he sickly? Many, many walking canes were found in his tomb. It is said that he had a club foot and a partial cleft palate. Also very decayed teeth. If he was Akhenaten’s son, was he not considered fit enough for rule? He didn’t succeed Akhenaten but was relegated a third in line after a possible daughter, Neferneferuaten, and  then a son-in-law, Smenkhare?

But images of Tutankhamun before his funeral depict only the uraeus. Did he put the vulture there? Or did his successor responsible for his burial? And why would he?

Did the uraeus sit beside the vulture goddess Nekbet as a representation of another goddess, Wadjet? Together did the two affirm a united Egypt?

After Tutankhamun’s death, he was succeeded by the vizier Ay, Nefertiti’s possible father and so possibly his grandfather. Ay’s short reign was succeeded by Tutankhamun’s general, Horemheb. Then Egypt left the hands of two successive dynasties (17th and 18th) from Thebes in the south and fell into the hands of a military family from the north. Was there tension between the north and the south at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Horemheb was the man Tutankhamun wanted to suceed him but he was pushed aside by the elderly Ay. When Horemheb eventually got the throne, he left it to Rameses I, of that northern military family. Was Ay trying to send out a plea for unity among Horemheb’s supporters at a time when Egypt was at war and the rightful heir was away fighting that war in the  Middle-East?

Assuming it was Ay who chose to depict Tutankhamun wearing the cobra and vulture for his funerary rites, was the adoption of the symbol of the united Egypt a necessary political trapping of Tutankhamun’s well attended funeral? Egyptian funeral processions were quite an event – nobility, priests and professional mourners were all in attendance.(2) A clever place to make a political point to a targeted audience? How united was Egypt at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Was Egypt in danger of succumbing to a succession crisis?

For the health of the king or for the health of the kingdom, I was satisfied that the creatures are snake and vulture. So I tried to recreate them thus:

Next … 3.Making the Nems Crown – Cloth or Gold?

References

(1) http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/nekhbet.htm

(2) Dominic Perry’s wonderful Egyptian History Podcast describes a funeral not too long before Tutankhamun’s in the 17th Dynasty in Episode 56c: A Royal Funeral, here.

Tyldesley, Joyce, Tutankhamun’s Curse:The Developing Historyof an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013.