Ancient Egyptian Stele sold by Sotheby's 14.7.1975

This item was put up for auction on 14 July 1975, it is an Ancient Egyptian stele, described in the Sotheby's sale catalogue as:

The property of Mrs S. Pitt-Rivers from the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Dorset ... Lot 118 An Egyptian wood funerary stele, with rounded top, decorated in a vivid polychrome palette with six lines of hieroglyphic inscription, above the figure of the deceased standing before the seated figure of Osiris and the four sons of Horus, a funerary barge in a frieze above, and two reclining figures of Anubis seated between a winged scaraboid, 12 in (30.5 cm) by 14 in. (35.6 cm) Late Period Literature: Buxton, pl. XIX'

No item like this is listed in the catalogue of the second collection. However there is a letter in the  Pitt-Rivers correspondence files at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, which suggests that Pitt-Rivers may have sent this stela to Frederick G. Hilton Price in 1881 for further information:

"My dear Pitt Rivers, Many thanks for your note I will pack up the flakes  (one arrow head is very pretty) in a cigar box & take them to the Lon & S. West Station this afternoon address'g to you to Tisbury Station. I suppose you send for parcels. As to the payment for the them [sic] I will leave it to you - there are 33 & they belong to Clarke of Zagazig Egypt - he collected them himself at Helwân whither he went for the baths - he states they are rare there now s he was 8 days picking them up, & does not know the value at all. Whatever you send me I will forward to him. Your two Stele have come - they are very fine - in fact the larger one is splendid. pity both are cracked. I will take great care & do my best towards giving you their history. The large one is of later date than the small one - Ptolemaic I should think - the sign [drawing] is used for [drawing] w'ch denotes a late period. I take it to be the stela of a Priest adoring Osiris who is accompanied by Iris & Nepthys. With best regards I am, Yrs very sincerely F.G. Hilton Price."  [L1 Hilton Price to Pitt-Rivers dated 17 October 1881]

So, if this is the same stela, this item is unusual because in fact it is clearly an artefact acquired during the time when the founding collection was still in the possession of Pitt-Rivers but was not included in it, but kept as part of his private collection, never put in Farnham and eventually disposed of, after his death. The actual person who acquired them and gave them (or, more likely) sold them to Pitt-Rivers is unknown, it seems likely that he acquired them in Egypt and possibly from a dealer.

Egyptian stela sold by Christie's New York 9.12.2005

This stela was sold again by Christie's in New York on 9 December 2005, sale 1691 ANCIENT EGYPTIAN ART FROM THE HARER FAMILY TRUST COLLECTION lot 41 for 36,000 US dollars to an unknown buyer. It was described this time as

'AN EGYPTIAN PAINTED WOOD STELA OF TSENTWOT PTOLEMAIC PERIOD, 304-30 B.C. Painted in white, red, yellow, green blue and black on a tan ground, in four registers, the uppermost lunette-shaped, with a winged solar disk above a scarab beetle flanked by a pair of crowned uraei, Nekhbet and Wadjet, and a pair of recumbent jackals, Anubis and Wepwawet, each identified by accompanying inscriptions, the second register with the deceased, Tsentwot, kneeling to the left with her hands raised in adoration before a divine boat, Tsentwot wearing a full wig surmounted by a lotus bud and a long pleated gown, a column of hieroglyphic text before her reading, "Praising the gods," a human-headed Ba-bird perched behind her, the boat carrying a full complement of deities including Khepre in the form of a scarab, ibis-headed Thoth, two goddesses, falcon-headed Horakhty holding a serpent aloft, two male gods, and falcon-headed Horus, the third register with Tsentwot standing to the right with her arms raised in adoration before a seated mummiform Osiris, a column of hieroglyphic text before her reading, "The Osiris Tasheritenduau(?), justified," with four deities standing behind Osiris, including falcon-headed Horus, Isis, Nephthys and jackal-headed Anubis, each identified by accompanying inscriptions, the lower register with six horizontal bands, alternating green and tan, each with hieroglyphic text reading, "A decree made by the Majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Wenen-nefer (Osiris), Justified: O ye gods...of the fertile land of the realm of the dead, ye spirits in..., ye followers who sleep(?) at the side of...the kingdom of the dead(?), gods and goddesses of the(?) horizon, heavenly ones who are buried(?) upon(?)...a divine decree. He says: O all ye gods, the voice, Amen-Re, Lord of the Throne(s) of the Two Lands, Foremost in Karnak; Atum, Lord of the Two Lands, the Heliopolitan; Ptah, South of His Wall, Lord of Ankhtawy; Nun, Eldest of the Gods in the First Occasion(?); Osiris...Tasheritduai(?), justified, borne by the Lady of the House, the Musician of Amen-Re, Tasherit, justified, that she may enter to you. Come ye(?) to the chamber...It is the secret chamber of the of All, sacred of ways in the West, like Re, come,...adoration to her face(?), come ye!", the registers divided and framed by a khekher frieze, the outer edge in red 21 in. (53.3 cm.) high. Provenance Pitt-Rivers Collection. Mrs. S. Pitt-Rivers, from the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Dorset; Sotheby's, London, 14 July 1975, lot 118. with Gallery Faustus, London, 1976. Literature L.H. Dudley Buxton, The Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham, General Handbook, Dorset, 1929, pl. xix. "Harer Collection Highlights Egyptian Culture," in Minerva, vol. 3, no. 1, January/February 1992, p. 34. G.D. Scott, III, Exhibition catalogue, Temple, Tomb and Dwelling: Egyptian Antiquities from the Harer Family Trust Collection, San Bernardino, 1992, no. 146, pp. 197 and 199. D.C. Forbes, "Harer Collection of Egyptian Antiquities on View at California's Newest Museum," in KMT, vol. 8, no. 1, Spring 1997, p. 24. Exhibited Los Angeles County Museum of Art, periodically 1986-1991. San Bernardino, University Art Gallery, California State University and elsewhere, Temple, Tomb and Dwelling: Egyptian Antiquities from the Harer Family Trust Collection, 8 January-30 December 1992.

This item is pictured, and discussed by F.L Griffiths, in the 1929 guidebook to Farnham Museum by L.H. Dudley-Buxton. Unfortunately it does not say who first bought the antiquity, it is possible, therefore, that it was inherited by Pitt-Rivers in 1880 with the rest of the estate, or else that it was bought after 1900 by Pitt-Rivers'' descendants, or it was acquired in Egypt in 1881, or acquired at some other time from a dealer in Europe or England, by Pitt-Rivers himself.

Ancient Egyptian Stela PRM 1884.98.2

Interestingly there is an item in the British Museum's collections said according to their on-line record accessed on 19 August 2010 to be from the 'Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford' but actually (of course) from the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Farnham, see Stela with accession number AN245888001 described as a sycamore fig wood stela of Tamit from Qurna (tomb 23 cache) of the 25th dynasty. It was acquired by the Museum in 1966 via the Temple Gallery and was no doubt sold to the Gallery by Stella Pitt-Rivers (possibly via an auction house). This is probably the second of these stela but no further information has been found about it.

I am very grateful to Alice Stevenson for her help with the research on these stela. Note that there are two stela 1884.98.2 and 3 which are part of the founding collection but these have been examined by Alice and found not to be cracked and are therefore unlikely to be the ones described by Chester. The bottom 2 photographs on this page are of the two stela in the founding collection, now in the Pitt Rivers Museum.

These are described as:


Accession Book V entry - 1884.98.1 - 66 Writing etc - Round-topped stela, poor work Egypt

Black book entry - Owners marks and writing. 1975 - 1978 Egyptian hieroglyphics

Delivery Catalogue II entry - Writing series Stone tablet Egyptian hieroglyphics 1975 1976 1977 1978 33 [screen or case?] 319 [This one is 1976]

This object was examined by Dr Elizabeth Frood, University of Oxford. She advised that the stela shows the deputy of the custodian of the treasury of the great house, royal messenger to all foreign lands, Neferrenpet, kneeling in adoration before a seated figure of Osiris. The register below shows standing figures of a man and three women, some of whom are identified as his kin.  [AS 06/09/2010]

Ancient Egyptian Stela PRM 1884.98.3


Accession Book V entry - 1884.98.1 - 66 Writing etc - Round-topped stela, poor work Egypt

Black book entry - Owners marks and writing. 1975 - 1978 Egyptian hieroglyphics

Delivery Catalogue II entry - Writing series Stone tablet Egyptian hieroglyphics 1975 1976 1977 1978 33 [screen or case?] 319 [This one is 1977]

This stela was examined by Dr Elizabeth Frood, University of Oxford. It depicts the owner in the upper register, the scribe of the temple of Ptah, Seba, kneeling in adoration before Osiris, Isis, and Hathor. The register below depicts eight kneeling figures, including Seba’s father Mose, craftsman in the place of truth, and possibly his wife and daughters. An offering formula to Osiris, Horendotes, Isis, and Ptah-Sokar for Seba and his father is inscribed in four lines below.  [AS 06/09/2010]

Alison Petch and Alice Stevenson, May 2011

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