Egyptian Alabaster Canopic jar of a queen

Egyptian-Alabaster Canopic jar of an 18th Dynasty queen, found within tomb KV55. New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, c. 1349–1330 B.C. One of four Canopic jars believed to have belonged to Akhenaten’s secondary wife, Queen Kiya.

Despite being associated with Kiya, the image of the beautifully carved wig adorned royal upon the jar lids has not been formally identified, and theories range to the lids belonging to Kiya, to even representing Akhenaten himself. Some propose the lids may originally have belonged to Akhenaten’s mother, Queen Tiye. It is also theorised that the lid was not originally for the jar itself, as it fits awkwardly.

Canopic Jar of an unknown Queen. Met Museum. 07.226.1, 30.8.54.
Canopic Jar of an unknown Queen. Met Museum. 07.226.1, 30.8.54.

The four jars were among the tomb equipment found in tomb KV55, believed to have been brought together during Tutankhamun’s reign, after the collapse of the so-called Amarna Period.

Although this canopic jar was intended for a funerary context, the face on the lid was carved by a master with the skill and care one might expect in a more public portrait. Whatever the age of the owner at her death, she was given a youthful countenance for the eternal afterlife.

The shape of the face, with its long slender nose, sloe eyes, and sensuous mouth, identifies it as a product of the second half of Akhenaten’s reign, after he moved the royal court to Amarna. The jar and lid were altered in antiquity making it extremely difficult to identify the original owner.

Is this the face of Queen Kiya?
Is this the face of Queen Kiya?

The striking face represents one of the royal women of Amarna. Her hairstyle of overlapping curls, known as the Nubian wig, was worn only by adults and was popular among the female members of Akhenaten’s family.

The hole at the center of the forehead once secured the separately carved upper body of a rearing cobra whose tail is visible across the top of the wig. This royal protector, called a uraeus was exclusively worn by kings and queens.

Since its discovery in 1907, the owner of the jar has been variously identified as Queen Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother; Queen Nefertiti, his principal wife; Queen Kiya, his beloved secondary wife; and Princess Merytaten, his eldest daughter whom he married later in his reign. For a time, it was even identified as Akhenaten himself.

Kiya? Akhenaten? Tiye? Met Museum. 07.226.1, 30.8.54.
Kiya? Akhenaten? Tiye? Met Museum. 07.226.1, 30.8.54.

This confusion is understandable as the inscription identifying the owner was almost completely erased. Faint traces of hieroglyphs indicate that the jar was originally inscribed for Kiya, and the Nubian wig is most frequently associated with this queen.

In some respects, however, the face more closely resembles later representations of Tiye, and it is possible that the lid originally belonged to her burial equipment and was later placed on Kiya’s canopic jar.

The tomb in which the jar was found, KV 55 in the Valley of the Kings, is probably the most controversial of all Egyptian tombs. It contained burial equipment inscribed for Queen Tiye and magical bricks with the name of Akhenaten. There were also four canopic jars (including this one) and an inlaid wooden coffin almost certainly made for Kiya.

It appears that, for safekeeping, Tutankhamun had this material transferred to Thebes from Akhenaten’s tomb at Amarna, which seems to have been plundered soon after Akhenaten’s death. The jars and coffin of Kiya may have been reused at that time for the burial of another member of the royal family.

The jar was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum by the tomb’s discoverer, Theodore M. Davis, who received it as part of his share of the division of finds from the Egyptian Antiquities Service.