By Katherine Blakeney
The standing figure of Karakhamun’s brother Nesamenopet is one of the most important documents on the application of the 21-square grid in the tomb of Karakhamun. A new addition to this figure, discovered in July 2022 is one of the most important achievements of the season so far.
Until the recent work of the South Asasif Conservation Project, little was known about the art of Karakhamun. Existing information on the 21-square grid used in the tomb of Karakhamun originated from the records of Lepsius and Prisse d’Avennes.
(LD III, pl. 282d; Prisse d’Avennes, 64).
Both published drawings of the standing figure of Karakhamun’s brother Nesamenopet from the south wall of the Second Pillared Hall. The exact location of this figure was established only during the excavation of the Second Pillared Hall during the 2010–12 seasons. The tomb was already partially collapsed in Lepsius’s time, making it impossible for him to accurately observe the disposition of its architectural features. Based on what he could see, he described Karakhamun as a large tomb with a six-pillar hall. In fact, the tomb contains not one pillared hall but two, the first with eight pillars and the second with four. The excavation undertaken by the South Asasif Conservation Project revealed that the figure of Nesamenopet was in the second, four-pillar hall.
Although the carving and painting of Nesamenopet’s figure were completed, red grid lines were still traceable, leading Lepsius to the following observations: “An der linken Wand ist sein Bruder in Quadraten dargestellt. Die 21 Quadrate führen nur bis zum oberen Augenlide statt bis zum Ansatze der Kappe.” (LD Text, 288).
By the time it was uncovered by the South Asasif Conservation Project, the Second Pillared Hall had completely caved in and was buried beneath large blocks of bedrock that had crashed into the tomb. Only fifty centimeters of the south wall were found still in situ. The only remaining parts of Nesamenopet’s figure were his lower legs from knee level.
The figure was partially reconstructed by the conservation team of the Project with the help of existing records.
The nineteenth-century copyists had reinforced the ancient grid lines with pencil marks, counted the lines, and written the numbers on the right side of the grid. These numbered markings helped to identify and join thirty-eight fragments belonging to this figure.
The head was still missing. The start of the 2022 season brought us the priceless discovery of a large fragment of Nasamenopet’s head. It was identified by Mohamed Shebib and Katherine Blakeney by the scale, style of carving, configuration of the breaks and, of course, 19th century pencil marks.
The fragment was cleaned and consolidated by Ali Hassan,
drawn by Katherine Blakeney
and installed by Mohamed Shebib.
The “Lepsius Figure” keeps growing!
Based on the figures in the tomb of Karakhamun, the Twenty-fifth Dynasty seems to have maintained the tradition of placing the top line of the grid at the level of the upper eyelid/bridge of the nose. In Karakhamun, this is horizontal 21 for standing figures, horizontal 17 for seated figures, and horizontal 13 for kneeling figures. The continued placement of the top line at eye level is a particularly practical solution in the case of variable headdresses and domed Kushite head shapes. Such features may take up from one to four additional squares and would distort the proportions of the entire figure if incorporated into a unified system.
Katherine Blakeney comments on the 21 grid system in the following video.
Although the reasons for the transition from the 18- to the 21-square grid system in the Twenty-fifth Dynasty remain obscure, as previously noted, it is possible to suggest that one of the reasons could be connected to the archaizing nature of Kushite art. Many images in the tomb of Karakhamun are based on earlier images recorded by the artists.
There are examples of 21-square grids applied to Old Kingdom figures. It can be suggested that a grid with a greater number of squares allows for more precision in the transmission process as it offers more reference points.