Relief from the Tomb of Kemsit

Kemsit sits on a wide, low-backed chair holding a vase of scented ointment to her nose. In front of her was the smaller figure of a male servant, of which only his hand remains, holding a small cup that is receiving the stream of liquid he was pouring into it with his other hand.

This servant was obviously facing leftward, and since the inscription in front of him has its signs also facing left, we can be sure that the inscription belongs to the servant. Kemsit has short, curly hair. Her necklace is a broad collar with many strands and an outer row of drop-shaped pendants, and she wears cuff-shaped bracelets made of many strands of tiny beads held in place by a spacer bead.

Relief from the Tomb of Kemsit
Relief from the Tomb of Kemsit

The most interesting part of her costume is her dress, which seems to be the usual tight sheath in shape; the straps are very narrow and appear to have left the breasts uncovered.

The dress is green, which is not so unusual; but it appears to consist of a feather-patterned garment, perhaps an over-wrap, over a pleated underskirt, which can be seen toward the bottom. Over the dress, or dresses, she is wearing a little shawl that seems to consist of a rectangular white cloth.

The ends are brought forward over her shoulders, and they have been painted green. In contrast to the meticulous carving of this relief, the painting seems to have been rather sloppily applied. It certainly was laid on very thickly; as a result, it has come off in some places – for example, on the brow, eyebrow, and cosmetic line, which were certainly painted black. Traces of red on the servant’s hand show that he was a male Egyptian.

Kemsit’s skin colour is now pink, but so are her necklace and bracelets and other parts of the relief. The pink may have been an undercoat, and traces of a darker colour on her skin, a brown or dark red, may have been the actual colour of her skin when the relief was freshly painted.

Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty, ca. 2055-2004 BC. Painted limestone. Now in the British Museum, London. EA1450