Ostracon of a Lute Player

This ostracon depicting a female musician lute player, wearing a broad collar and holding a musical instrument that is functionally close to a modern lute. The woman is facing left. The upper left-hand corner of the ostracon is broken and only her neck and the lower part of her chin are preserved.

Her left hand touches her left ear as if she is listening to something or someone else. This pose is common in tomb scenes. The grace and beauty of the musician were caught with a few deft strokes of a master’s brush.

Ostracon Lute Player
Ostracon of a Lute Player

“The music of ancient Egypt is lost forever. Without musical notation (at least until the Ptolemaic Period), the songs and tunes that played such a large part in Egyptian life, in private and public spheres, in secular and religious celebrations, can never be recovered. Some of the instruments survive but we can only guess at the melodies and harmonies they produced. However, there is no doubting the centrality of music and musicians in [ancient Egyptian] culture…”

Lives of the Ancient Egyptians, by Toby Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson, 2019

New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, ca. 1292-1189 BC. Painted limestone. From Deir el-Medina, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 63805