The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Statues, Sculptures and Containers
Unguent Vase with Plants in Openwork Design
Several elaborately carved vases such as this were found in the Antechamber, but still others were discovered in the Annex. It was Carter's suggestion that the Annex may have been the original provenience for most of them, but that several were moved in the thieves' attempts to steal their contents.
This highly decorative piece was made from two blocks of calcite. The base depicts an anthropomorphized ankh on either side of the jar stand; it grasps the hieroglyph, was ("dominion"), in each hand. The vase itself is part of an overall design signifying the "unification of Upper and Lower Egypt", taking the place of the hieroglyph sema ("Unification"). The plants, symbolic of Upper (lotus) and Lower (papyrus) Egypt, are on the left and right, respectively. They are tied about the neck of the vase. Completing the outer edge of the openwork handle is the notched palm branch signifying the Egyptian word for 'year', renpet. Below each is the hieroglyphic sign for one hundred thousand, the tadpole. The motif, therefore, represents "uncountable years". The king's cartouches written below the epithets, "Son of Ra, the Lord of the Two Lands", are placed within a rectangular outline, below which extends a carved band of stylized vegetation. A garland is at the base of the neck, while the head of the goddess Hathor (with the ears of a cow) is carved just below the rim of the vessel. Not visible here are two breasts in raised relief under the garland.
While it is clear that the artist wished to create a balanced composition, one side is not a mirror image of the other. Different plants are used on each side. In addition, the papyrus blossom (right) turning in toward the neck is attached to it, while the lotus blossom (left) remains free from the neck. It is highly unlikely that this inconsistency was an error, considering the high level of artistic competency exhibited in the design and execution of the vase.