Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Relief Fragment with a Ship Under Sail

Old Kingdom
Dynasty 4–5
reign of Userkaf ?
ca. 2465–2458 B.C.
From Egypt, Memphite Region, Lisht North, Pyramid Temple of Amenemhat I, MMA excavations, 1920–22
Limestone, paint traces
h. 80 cm (31 1/2 in); w. 70 cm (27 9/16 in)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1922
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103
On this fragment, part of an immense sail bellies in the wind dwarfing the busy sailors. One man raises the sail, while the two at the bow are probably pilots testing the water with sticks and guiding the boat. Representations of the sacred wedjat eye on the bladelike objects in front of the pilots may magically both protect the boat and help it to "see" its way. A vertical line of inscription reads "Sail well like this, hurry!"

This relief has been suggested to date to the reign of Userkaf, whose pyramid complex was at Saqqara. Although variability among the different royal pyramid complexes and problems of preservation prevent us from knowing exactly where a scene like the one depicted here would occur, it is interesting to note that Userkaf's successor Sahure depicted ships in the corridors outside the central court of his pyramid temple, conveying the notion that the court itself constituted a sort of island.

This relief was actually discovered by the Museum's Egyptian Expedition in the core of the Middle Kingdom pyramid of Amenemhat I at Lisht where it had been reemployed by the ancient builders.
zXAA n nfr mj r nw A jzA
Sail well like this, hurry!
Excavated by the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Acquired by the Museum in the division of finds.

Hayes, William C. 1953. Scepter of Egypt I: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part I: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 68.

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