Painted for Eternity

Decoration of Middle Kingdom Coffins from Beni Hassan – an Art Historical Case Study


The project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF P31390-G25) seeks to investigate the painted figurative decoration of the Middle Kingdom box shaped coffins from an art historical perspective. The cemetery at Beni Hassan – an important necropolis in Middle Egypt with the largest set of coffins deriving from archaeological excavations and covering a time span from the 11th Dynasty up to the reign of Senwosret III or slightly later – has been chosen for the present case study.

The main focus of the research will be an art historical analysis of the decorative elements painted on the coffins – ornamental frames, ornamental hieroglyphs, representations of wDA.t-eyes, architectural elements including the false door and the palace façade, offering table with associated piles of offerings, and object frieze. The study will involve an in-depth analysis of their iconography including the colouring, the layout, the elaboration of potential stylistic traits and artistic developments as well as the identification of workshops or artists. Special attention will be given to the so called object friezes, their selection, positioning and arrangement. Subsequently, the coffin decoration will be compared with the paintings in the Beni Hassan tombs of high-ranking officials as well as with coffins from other Middle Kingdom cemeteries.

The art historical evaluation of Middle Kingdom coffins has not been attempted so far, because proper publication of most of them is still overdue in the Egyptological research. Thus, an essential research step of the project will be the proper photographic documentation of all decorated coffins from the necropolis kept in various museums.

The analysis will make use of the MEKETREpository, an extensive database of Middle Kingdom tombs of officials, especially those at Beni Hassan, which provides an invaluable source of information on the Middle Kingdom art, and which resulted from the ‘MEKETRE Project’ and from the project ‘From Object to Icon’, both of which were directed by the applicant Prof. Dr. Peter-Christian Jánosi (FWF, P21571–G21 and P25958–G21). Part of the present project shall cover its extension by adding detailed records of the Beni Hassan coffins, and an update to meet the FAIR Data principles and guarantee its future usability.

In order to deal with the Egyptological questions posed, the following, excellently qualified postdoctoral scholars will tackle the project’s specific topics: Dr. Lubica Hudáková and Dr. Uta Siffert. Their training and expertise in art history and archaeology enable them to deal with the various aspects of the project at the highest international level of research. It is also envisaged to engage a student assistant to share the tasks of research as well as an IT technician to accomplish the update of the MEKETREpository.



Intended Duration of the Project

February 2019 – January 2023


Project Leader

Ao. Univ. Prof. Dr. Peter Jánosi


Project Members

Dr. Lubica Hudáková (geb. Zelenková) (Egyptology)
Dr. Uta Siffert, B.A. M.A.  (Egyptology)

Student assistant (Egyptology)