Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun: The British Museum's new display of Egyptian wall paintings within an ancient burial complex has Lara Croft elements.
Per-Ankh: Ancient Egypt
Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun
Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun
Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun

The British Museum's new display of Egyptian wall paintings within an ancient burial complex has Lara Croft elements. A jazzier institution than the British Museum might have called its new display of Egyptian wall painting Death and the Accountant, because that, basically, is what it tackles.

But the British Museum is not jazzy, thank Isis, so it has chosen something prosaic but accurate: The Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun. Which does not trip off the tongue, and promises a substantial educational workload. If, however, we are seeking a helping of culture lite, we head for Tate Modern, donít we, not the increasingly pertinent and effective British Museum?

A tomb-chapel turns out to be an ancient Egyptian burial complex with an underground grave surmounted by a suite of painted rooms, in which the deceasedís story is told in pictures. While the burial chamber is sealed for eternity, the painted rooms are open to visitors and subsequent generations of the family, who continue to worship their ancestorís memory in them. Of course, in an ugly way, Egyptian tomb-chapels are sites of continuing cultural importance for us as well.

Nebamun was, as I have already leaked, an accountant. His official title, recorded in the pictograms scattered throughout the British Museumís famous paintings, was ďscribe and grain accountant in the granary of divine offerings of AmunĒ. Amun was the state god of the 18th dynasty, and Nebamun was employed at one of his temples, keeping track of the grain holdings. The British Museumís new book on the paintings describes him cheerlessly as ďa chief middle managerĒ. All of which is worth noting only because the art from Nebamunís tomb-chapel is of such spectacularly high quality and gracefulness that you expect its origins to have been kingly rather than clerical, divine rather than white-collar.

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Viewed: 3005 TimesDate: 25/01/2009