on a canopic jar

Canopic jars are my favorite Egyptian art thing.  There’s no point here in going into (the many gross and fascinating) details about the process of mummification or about my childhood fascination with Wallis Budge’s The Mummy: A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology.  (Yes, I did take this book* to summer camp with me one year, with interesting results.)

But of all the traditional pieces of art that accompany the making of a really high class mummy, my favorites are the canopic jars, which were used to hold (bluntly), the subject’s internal organs which are (of course)  removed during the process.  Everybody gets four jars, each with a lid depicting the head of one of the Sons of Horus, who represent the four directions. Hapi the baboon represents the North, Duamutef, a jackal, the East, Imsety, with a human head, represents the South, and Qebehsenuef, a falcon, is the West.  (Consult the Wikipedia page to find out which organs go in which jar, and which goddess protects each share of the anatomy.)  Sets of all four jars are common enough to be found in the Ancient Egypt collection of any reasonably well equipped museum, and it’s interesting to see the same four characters interpreted in different styles.

Which brings up this little jar. Made of plain stone and not particularly elaborately decorated, it was the jackal in a set that probably belonged to somebody who wasn’t a king. But it’s easy to see why it appeals to me so much.  It may be intended as a jackal, but I’m pretty sure the artist modeled it on a dog.  And that dog happened to look exactly like my late Welsh corgi, Chester.  I guess dogs don’t change much.

“The canopic jar that looks exactly like my dog Chester” can be found in the Egyptian collection at the Field Museum in Chicago.  You have to look for it.  It’s at the bottom of a fairly minor case at the end of the “tomb walk” (easy to reach from the more open parts of the exhibit on the lower floor for those who are claustrophobic) and it is far from easy to photograph in the tight space and atmospheric dimness of the shadowy gallery.  It gets an essay here today because I found some older images of it and used my newfound knowledge of photo editing to bring them into a better light.

*Sample pages here.

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