Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

All the ostraka described below come from the collection formed by R.G. Gayer-Anderson 
(1881-1945). He lived in Egypt between 1906 and 1942 as an army medical officer, a senior civil 
servant and a private collector. In 1942 he left his Cairo house called Beit el-Kreatlia, to the 
Egyptian Government as a museum of Islamic art. He moved to Lavenham, England, to one of the 
best preserved of the Suffolk wool towns. Together with his twin brother, he restored Little Hall, 
a 14th century house built by a family of clothiers. They filled the house with a variety of art and 
artefacts collected during their extensive travels. 

Gayer-Anderson donated part of the collection of 
Egyptian antiquities to Fitzwilliam Museum in 
Cambridge. The artefacts arrived between 1943 
and 1949.
Altogether the Fitzwilliam Museum obtained 46 
pieces of ostraka. 15 of these have sketches on 
both verso and recto, so the number of 
representations is 61. Majority – 54 – are images 
of figures, only 4 carry text.

The material is mostly limestone, there are 2 terracotta shreds and 1 grey stone.
The ostraka below are all painted, but the museum collection contains also examples of figures carved 
in relief – rather products of sculpture than of drawing.
The ostraka are drawn in black and/or red ink, but yellow and grey pigments also appear.
The exact provenance of the collection is not known. They are dated on the evidence of stylistic 
criteria or names present in inscriptions. They can be assigned to the 18th-20th dynasties. Most 
pieces are considered to come from Deir el-Medina.

Ostrakon of an unshaven stone mason
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
13.5×15 cm.
Red and black line drawing
Ramesside period, 1200-1153 BC
The drawing of the head and the upper arms of a stone mason 
leaning forward while working. The man’s head is bald, his 
beard is stippled and his mouth is open. Possibly, he is meant to 
be singing, while at work or he is gasping for air inside a dusty 
tomb. He is endowed with an overly large ear and bulbous nose. 
He is gripping the tools of his trade, the copper chisel in his 
left hand and the wooden mallet in his right hand. The subject 
of this ostrakon is unique, unparalleled in the official art of 
On the reverse of the ostrakon scribe Imyshe, son of 
Nebnefer, makes an offering to the snake goddess Meretseger

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 
15×12 cm.
New Kingdom
Possibly from Deir el-Medina
The body of the man is painted red, the wig, 
his kilt grey and the stick in his left hand 
black. The bull is being driven in front of the 
man. The animal is outlined in black and 
painted red with black markings – composed 
of patterns of dots, stripes and solid patches 
of colour. The scene is beautifully drawn. It 
is one of the finest examples of its kind.

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
E.GA.4292.1943. E.GA.4293.1943.
11×9.75 cm (left), 8.5×13 cm (right)
Late 18th dynasty – early 19th dynasty, 1350-1250 BC
Black line drawing, with red, yellow and grey paint
Two monkeys wearing belts or ribbons are shown on the two flakes below. It is not possible to establish 
whether the author/s of these drawings tried to represent their beloved pets or whether the drawings 
reflect a narrative but they do not look like preliminary drawings for walls in tombs. The presence of the 
girdles tied around their wastes indicate they are domestic pets (Houlihan,1996,210). In the scene on the 
left the monkey climbs a trunk of dom palm tree to pick some of its ripe nuts and turns its head to look 
over his shoulder. He is sketchily painted, his face is human and he wears a tiered male wig. His human 
aspect might refer to the mischievous behaviour of a child.
In the scene on the right, a monkey runs on all four looking over his shoulder at a person walking behind him 
holding a stick. The person is only partly preserved. The drawing displays more detail than the previous one.

11.3×7.5 cm.
Black and red line drawing with red paint.
19th dynasty
The drawing shows a nude rider, possibly a 
woman, riding towards right on a stallion. The 
ground-line slopes upwards. The horse has a 
short upright mane, and wears a bridle. The 
woman holds a stick or staff in her left hand. 
She wears an amulet on a long string around her 
The black outline has been laid over preliminary 
red lines. Both bodies have been painted red. 
Figures on horseback are not common but do occur 
in ancient Egyptian art. A similar scene on an 
ostrakon in Berlin was identified as Astarte, the 
Syrian goddess of love and war. It is possible 
this ostrakon depicts the same topic.

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 
9×11 cm
Red line drawing
New Kingdom
This piece carries the drawing of a 
seated cat facing towards the right. 
The 1st sketch as well as the final 
drawing were both made in red paint. 
This simple portrait was probably a 
practice piece.

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge E.106.1949.
13.9×9.8 cm.
Late dynasty XIX – 3rd Intermediate 
Period, 1295-1069 BC
On this pot-sherd a field worker is 
depicted with baskets or bags yoked over 
his far shoulder. The man is shown balding, 
with hunched shoulders, thin limbs and a 
walking stick in his free hand.

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
9.5×14.5 cm.
Red and black line drawing
Ramesside Period, about 1305-1080 B.C.
This well preserved ostrakon bears a detailed 
drawing of the upper half of the hieroglyphic 
sign “m”, an owl.
The initial outline was made in red, and 
overlaid in black. The arrangement and form 
of the different feathers has been skilfully 
and precisely reproduced. Although the head is 
turned full face, the neck, right wing, and 
left leg (which is just hinted at) are shown in 
a side view. The drawing may be classified as 
a study of a model hieroglyph

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.E.GA.4298.1943.
42×27 cm.
Black line drawing recto and verso
From Thebes, possibly from Deir el-Medina
According to inscription, 19th dynasty
A number of themes seem to have been used to explore by the artist of this ostrakon. The most 
prominent design is of a shrine doorway represented in the centre. To the left of the door, the 
figure of the standing donor is represented. He is an official, which is denoted by the staff of 
office he holds in his left hand. Above him there is a drawing of a head of the god Ptah with a 
cap and beard. On the right side of the door there is a line of hieroglyphic text, which reads  
“Conquer the people of the Nine Bows” (a symbolic designation of enemies of Egypt). The whole 
drawing is an example of the finest workmanship, and must have been produced as a design for a 
door which the owner had commissioned with this sketch.

The Nine Bows
This is an ancient term that collectively referred to the enemies of Ancient Egypt. The name could 
originate from their use of bows and arrows in warfare or because of their ritual of physically 
“breaking the bows” of defeated foes as a metaphor for military defeat – but the original reason is 
not known. The actual enemies that this refers to were a matter of choice that reflected the current 
contact with neighbours and their relations with them – but the selection generally included Asiatics, 
Sand Dwellers and Nubians.

The Nine Bows were often represented as a number of arrows (not always nine) and this design was 
used to decorate some royal furniture and thrones. On monuments the Nine Bows could also be 
represented as rows of bound captives. The Nine Bows, surmounted with a Jackal, was also the ‘seal’ 
of the Valley of the Kings.

Shabti of Sennedjem
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge E.9.1887. 
Limestone with pigment
Height 21.5 cm.
From Deir el-Medina, Tomb 1 of Sennedjem
New Kingdom, 19th dynasty, reign of Seti I, 
1294-1279 BC
The shabti holds a broad bladed hoe against his 
right shoulder and a hoe with pointed blade against 
his left shoulder. A basket for seeds is depicted on 
his back, slung by a rope over his right shoulder. 
The text invokes the shabti as a servant, literally 
“hearer of the call”, to act on behalf of Sennedjem 
if required at any of the works which are done in 
the necropolis


Author: DonFletcher

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