Among the many great treasures in the echoing maze of galleries that make up the Field Museum in Chicago, my very favorite is the little canopic jar*. That’s because the head that makes up its lid, which is supposed to represent a jackal, clearly looks more like a cartoon dog. Specifically, it looks like a corgi.
I’ve known and loved the Field since I was a child, so I had probably seen this little jar many times when I returned after a long hiatus. A lot had happened in that time, but among the most important events were the arrival of my first dog, and then my second. They were, of course, Cardigan Welsh corgis, Scooter and Chester. And when I saw that little dog head again on that visit, my first thought was that it looked just like Chester. So from then on, every trip to this great cultural institution has included a visit to the famous Canopic Jar That Looks Just Like My Dog Chester.
Chester has been gone for a while now. And sometimes I like to think that the artist who made this piece based it on their own dog. (Anybody who has studied the art knows that the Ancient Egyptians loved dogs and had several different breeds, including one that looked very much like a corgi with a hot weather short coat.) So maybe this canopic jar now commemorates two dogs with big eyes, little black noses, and “sticky up ears”. Good dog, Chet. Good dog, dog of Ancient Egypt.
*A canopic jar, for those who don’t have a lifelong fascination with Ancient Egypt in Capital Letters (which is as much a creation of the Western scholarly gaze as it is a “real” historical place and time) is a funerary container made to hold some of the internal organs removed from a person during the process of mummification. There are traditionally four canopic jars, each holding particular organs and topped with the head of one of four deities, manifested as a hawk, a baboon, a jackal and a man wearing a royal headdress. This is the kind of thing you learn when you are writing a dozen or so school papers on the gods and customs of Ancient Egypt in capital letters, and for some reason it “stuck”.
The Canopic Jar That Looks Just Like My Dog Chester is very hard to photograph, being down low in a glass case in a darkened gallery. I was finally able to get some good shots on a recent visit, not with the big camera, but with my little Pocket Fuji.