The Musicians

The three musicians’ tableau is well-known and frequently reprinted in art books, and it must be acknowledged as a masterpiece of Theban painting. The artist did not stop at lining them one behind the other; they now form a moving whole, partially overlapping, and rendered even more alive by the middle girl’s face turned to the back.
A harpist is in the front, with a huge instrument with more than a dozen strings and a reasonable sound box (and very tastefully adorned); a lute player follows, followed by a double flute player.

Each of the girls is depicted differently, yet the third appears to be the same as the first at first glance. They wore a long, tight white gown topped with a fine tunic with a yellow upper section, as was the vogue at the period, as if the perfume that had been applied on their wigs (which the ointment cone literally or symbolically embodies) had sunk. In contrast, the girl in the centre, who is most likely quite young, wears simply a beaded belt around her waist and has a visible pubic triangle. Each has a different wig, a huge necklace and bracelets, and a pair of very enormous gold ring earrings. The work done on the fingers will also be noticed, and the scene’s sensuality, with the girl in the middle clearly provoking love, as Hathor does.

Their skin is substantially darker than the other ladies in the register, nearing the complexion of men. The difficulty rests mostly with the layer of varnish that the artist added to these representations at the time: time has darkened it, but it is also, and this is far more significant, accountable for the appearance. On the harpist’s face, there are scales in the paint. It should be noted that the feet of the two musicians on the right and left are noticeably clearer than those of the other women, owing to the fact that they have not been varnished. What was the purpose of using this varnish? This scene was obviously very important to the artist, and he wanted to preserve it as much as possible. In addition, the torchlight surely gave the chapel a unique glow in the semi-darkness.
The musicians’ size has been lowered to allow the display of fresh provisions above them in the form of four vases of various colours and forms, each separated from its neighbour by bunches of grapes, sitting on a mat or set on a little pedestal table.

Object Details

The Musicians

New Kingdom

Dynasty 18, Reigns of Thutmose IV

 1401 to 1391 BC

Egypt, Luxor, Sheikh Abd el-Qurna

Tomb of Nakht (TT52)