Online Review: Book

Le tombeau de Pétosiris à Touna el-Gebel: Relevé photographique

Mariam Ayad


By Nadine Cherpion, Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, and Jean-François Gout. Pp. v + 197, figs. 154, plans 2. Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, Cairo 2007. €82. ISBN 978-2-7247-0426-6 (paper).

Dating to the 30th Dynasty, the tomb of Petosiris at Tuna el-Gebel, near Minya in Middle Egypt, is among the most important Egyptian monuments surviving from that period. The tomb's significance lies in its place in the development of Egyptian architectural forms and in the artistic innovations in its decoration. Such innovations can be seen, for instance, in the design of its facade as well as in the incorporation of Greek artistic traditions in the decoration of its walls.

Petosiris, a high ranking, well-connected individual of the 30th Dynasty, was a high priest of Thoth at that deity's nearby temple at Hermopolis (modern Tuna el-Gebel). He was also the priest charged with keeping track of that temple's finances. Petosiris, whose name means "the one whom Osiris has given," came from a long line of royal protégés. His father, Es-shu, administered the Temple of Thoth under King Nectanebo II. Petosiris witnessed the second Persian invasion of 342 B.C.E. and became responsible for the administration of his nome under Persian rule. His funerary chapel at Tuna el-Gebel, which also includes the burials of his family members, is one of the best-preserved tomb chapels of the period.

In this lavishly illustrated volume, the authors present a comprehensive photographic record of the tomb of Petosiris. The importance of this tomb for Egyptian art history has long been recognized. It is the earliest tomb in Egypt that exhibits Greek cultural influence and in which Greek artistic tradition is so clearly manifest. Such influence can be seen, for example, in the scenes depicting the funerary procession (88 [Scene 68]), where the cult ceremonies shown are more Greek than Egyptian. Similarly, the costume and stance of the individuals depicted in this scene follow Greek traditions and artistic conventions (the stance of the veiled lady—shown standing in profile with her face turned to the viewer's right—the veil draped around her head and shoulders, and her jewelry).

In their concise five-page introduction, the only narrative section of the book, the authors demonstrate the architectural significance of the tomb. Along with the Temple of Thoth at Tuna el-Gebel, this funerary chapel is where the pronaos appears for the first time in Egyptian monumental architecture. The pronaos, a pillared hall set before the main body of a temple, initially had either a completely open or half-open front. The pronaos became a popular architectural form, and its use in monumental architecture peaked in the 30th Dynasty. It later became a standard feature of Ptolemaic temple architecture. This tomb thus occupies a special place in the development of the architectural form.

One hundred eighty pages of mostly color plates (some black-and-white photographs are included) constitute the rest of the book. The plates are arranged by room, starting with the facade and proceeding into the tomb as a visitor would have encountered the scenes upon entering. Each section is prefaced with a floor plan and/or an elevation of the wall. The plans are clearly marked with the authors' scene numbers to facilitate easy identification of the exact physical location along the tomb's various walls for any scenes depicted in the plates. The volume does not include translations of the texts accompanying the scenes, nor does it include transcriptions of the hieroglyphic inscriptions. However, the crisp, clear ­photographs enable any person competent in the language to read the inscriptions easily.

As stated by the authors in the introduction, this volume is intended to be a companion volume to Lefebure's earlier publication of the tomb (Le tombeau de Petosiris. 3 vols. [Cairo 1923–1924]). However, the current authors have elected to depart from Lefebure's scene numbers so that the scene numbers can strictly follow the order in which they appear along the tomb's various walls as one enters. Accord­ingly, the authors are careful to include a meticulously compiled and comprehensive concordance of the scenes that reconciles both numbering systems. The three-page, triple-columned concordance allows for easy cross-reference.

Redford once wrote, "For the art historian, the tomb and family chapel loom large because they reflect the first impact of Greek culture and art in Egypt" (The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Vol. 1, s.v. "Petosiris" [Oxford 2001] 38). It is to the authors' credit that they have published a scene-by-scene photographic record of this wonderful monument. Doing so enables them to highlight the importance of the tomb in the development of ancient Egyptian art. The remarkable infusion of Greek forms into this tomb is carefully documented and demonstrated in this volume, which will make a valuable addition to any library.

Mariam Ayad
Department of Art
University of Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee 38152


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