This beautiful relief of Queen Tiye was saved from certain destruction by tomb robbers.
Yes, you read it right; saved by tomb robbers, not from tomb robbers!
This relief fragment comes from the tomb of the "Chief of the Royal Harem", Userhat (TT47), one of the tombs of the Nobles at Luxor. Userhat was "Chief of the Royal Harem" during Amenhotep's reign.
The relief was purchased in 1905 at a public sale in Paris by Jean Capart for the Brussels royal museum. It seems that it had been lifted from the tomb only a year or two earlier.
The fragment was described in the sale catalogue as a Ptolemaic relief of a king! Thankfully, by chance,
While the tomb robbers who hacked the relief from the wall of Userhat's tomb weren't motivated by anything but money, they also inadvertently saved the relief fragment for posterity. Today, much of Userhat's tomb is in a sorry state and the wall that this relief was cut from has been badly affected by mindless destruction from vandals.
It's easy to see why this piece caught the robbers' eye; it's beautiful.
In the relief, Tiye wears a large, luxurious wig. Because wigs were expensive, status items, the Egyptians wanted it to be pretty obvious that this was wasn't their real hair. Here we can see a lock of Tiye's natural hair peeking out between her ear and eyebrow.
On top of the wig, only the lower part of the traditional crown of queens is preserved, adorned with a row of cobras bearing sun disks, topped by twin plumes. The cobras, rearing in a fierce, defensive stance, linked the queen with Hathor as the daughter and eye of Ra. As with much Egyptian art, this fragment is packed with symbolism. In her hand Tiye holds a lotus, symbol of creation and rebirth. Her diadem is decorated at front with two protective cobras wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. The cobra (uraeus) was an aggressive guardian who protected the king from his enemies, became the primary emblem worn by kings. Its appearance on the head of Tiye also provided protection, along with connecting her with the king and her royal status.
Around the wig Tiye wears a fillet, backed with a fillet featuring the Horus falcon, wings spread in protection. The bird holds a shen ring, a symbol of eternity. Here Tiye portrays a divine role as Hathor, protecting her husband, the king.
Today the relief is in the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels, (E 2157).
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