FRAME|WORK: An Ancient Egyptian Relief from the Tomb of Mentuemhet

FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, with the holiday shopping frenzy upon us, we feature a depiction of ancient Egyptian gift giving in the Relief from the Tomb of Mentuemhet, currently on view at the Legion of Honor.

Relief from the Tomb of Mentuemhet, ca. 660 BC. Egypt, Thebes. Limestone with polychrome. Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. 51.4.2

This fragment is from a wall relief in the tomb of Mentuemhet, a prominent figure of the 25th Dynasty. Mentuemhet is one of the most recognizable nonroyal names from ancient Egypt. The son of a well-known Theban family, he rose through the ranks to become the fourth priest of Amun, mayor of Thebes and governor of Upper Egypt. His tomb is the largest ever constructed for a nonroyal in Egypt.

Scenes carved in bas-relief form the two registers of this section, which retains most of its original pigmentation. The lower level details a long line of offerings being presented to Mentuemhet. A man and a woman baskets of produce on their heads. To the left of each of them, vertical hieroglyphic inscriptions inventory the contents of their baskets and signify the owner of the provisions.

Although the body of the man is lost, the contents of his basket are still visible and include cucumbers, loaves of bread, and a large head of lettuce. The woman in the center of the panel carries fruit, which are identified as grapes in the far-left inscription.

Above this procession, a man kneels on the ground at a small, slanted table used to gut fish; several such prepared fish lay in a pile in front of him.

Get into the spirit of giving with a visit to this extraordinary example of the age-old tradition, currently on view in the Hall of Antiquities on the lower level of the Legion of Honor.