Bergamo’s Egyptian Collection is composed of selective and haphazard accumulations built up during the 19th century, in line with a widespread European practice driven by the passion for Egyptian antiquities that followed Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt.
In 1885 the Italian consul at Alexandria in Egypt, Giovanni Venanzi, donated to the city of Bergamo a mummy with sarcophagus from Luxor, ancient Thebes. In the accompanying letter, the consul states that the mummy was originally enclosed in two sarcophagi, one inside the other, in accordance with Egyptian custom; however, there is now no trace of the larger case.
The name of the deceased, which appears five times on the sarcophagus, is Ankhekhonsu, which means “the god Khonsu lives”. This name and his role as priest and scribe of the granary for offerings to the god Amon confirm his position at Thebes.
The sarcophagus dates to the 22nd dynasty (900-800 BC) and is anthropoid in shape; it consists of a box with a lid made of painted cedar wood. Religious scenes in red, blue, green and black stand out against a yellow background, interspersed with inscribed hieroglyphics. The lid features a relief carving of the dead man’s face; he wears a tripartite wig, a ritual false beard, a red stole and a large collar that covers his chest and arms. His hands, crossed on his chest, hold two papyrus scrolls. Inside, resting directly on the mummy, there was a second lid, with the same decorations as the external one.
X-rays of the mummy have revealed that it was unwrapped in antiquity, probably to steal the accompanying objects, thus interrupting the mummification process. It was then hastily reassembled, and indeed much of the skeleton is now not articulated.
The Archaeological Museum’s Egyptian Collection also includes a number of small objects of unknown origin: bronzes, amulets and above all ushabti, small mummiform figurines in terracotta or faience, depicted with mattock and hoe in hand and a bag of seeds on their shoulders. For the ancient Egyptians, death was a condition similar to life but which lasted forever, so steps were taken to reduce hard, tiring work in the afterlife. This was the function of the ushabti; they were placed in tombs and would come to life after reading the formula from the Book of the Dead written on their bodies and carry out agricultural work in the place of the deceased.
Most of the 22 ushabti in the museum date from the 27th to 30th dynasties, that is from the late 6th to mid-4th centuries BC.