SEARCHING FOR BANOFRE: CURIOSITY AND THE CAST by Nina Barclay
Block statue of a seated figure.

Block Statue of Sennefer. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

“Banofre, a Scribe” reads the label of a white plaster cast of a simple block sculpture. The Egyptian figure sits with his knees drawn in front of his shoulders, arms lightly crossed, and hands resting on those knees. His head, close to his hands, draws the viewer to determine if his chin rests on them. Revealing a smooth tapered shape in front, his garment entirely conceals his feet. With a long wig and a short beard, he looks straight ahead with serene attention. The figure evokes the symbolic wrapping of the dead and regeneration of the afterlife.


WHO IS THIS?

Slater Memorial Museum’s Egyptian collection is small, yet rewarding. A visitor can stand in front of the colossal cast statue of Amenhotep III, the grandfather of Tutankamun. Before the NFA Atrium was built, this statue greeted visitors to both the Museum and Slater auditorium in the entry vestibule on the first floor by the stairway. It now presides over the second-floor landing, by the reception area.

Now, the delicate wall relief of the goddess Nekhebet and original Egyptian objects and models in a glass case join the massive statue of Amenhotep. Banofre, the third Egyptian cast of Slater’s Collection, sits self-contained, calmly posed, in a nearby stairway window niche. His location, difficult to access, perhaps explains why this statue retains in its original surface, unlike many of Slater’s casts like Amenhotep III or Nekhebet which have received attention, re-patination, or modest repairs.
 
 
 
 
Statue of a seated, Egyptian figure. Their arms are crossed over their raised knees.

‘Banofre, A Scribe’

Slater Memorial Museum Egyptian Gallery.

FINDING BANOFRE

Googling “Banofre, a scribe,” reveals references only to the listing of Slater’s cast, not to its original statue.

Why does the query return only Slater’s listing? Where is the original? Could a typographical error be to blame? Did the original or cast from which Slater’s cast was molded at the British Museum or elsewhere have a different name?

An online search of the content listing of the British Museum yields no Banofre. The British Museum’s database includes more than 8 million items, with more than 100,000 in the Egyptian Collection. Standard reference texts on Egyptology and ancient Egyptian art do not produce a photograph of Banofre, nor does an index search.

A Google image search yields many block statues of his type. Hundreds of these statues exist from the Middle Kingdom (2000 BCE) to the time of Rameses (1000 BCE) and later. They were relatively easy to carve, and their cuboid sturdiness and massive granite weight ensured their survival. Their design offered smooth surfaces for carving inscriptions.
The original might not have been white or limestone or may appear very different in a photograph. Many extant block statues have been damaged over the millennia -- missing heads, corners, texts, parts of pedestals, etc. Slater’s “Banofre” was in virtually perfect condition.

In time, the shape of the cast’s feet helped find a figure of polished black stone. A printed, Internet-generated photograph of BM EA48 from the British Museum website revealed more clues under examination with a magnifying glass. The hands looked similar, the feet looked right. BM EA48 revealed hieroglyphs. Did Slater’s statue have hieroglyphs matching the sharp script on the British Museum’s BM EA48?

Russ VerSteeg, who studied Middle Egyptian grammar and hieroglyphic texts at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, carefully examined Slater’s Banofre, comparing the glyphs in several places. He determined a match. At some point after the arrival of Slater’s cast in Norwich, the British Museum had updated the figure’s name to Sennefer; thus, Banofre’s identity became obscure for over 100 years.

Nigel Strudwick’s definitive Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt describes BM EA48 as “surely one of the finest examples of this type ever produced in Egypt”. This comment certainly sheds light upon Edward Robinson’s choice to procure a cast of BA48. Engaged by Slater, Robinson traveled abroad to assemble a cast collection. He later became Curator of Classical Art and Assistant Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Once linked to an original sculpture, Slater’s Banofre raised additional questions.
 
black and white portrait of Henry Salt. John James Halls, c. 1815.

Portrait of Henry Salt. John James Halls, c. 1815.

FROM EGYPT TO THE BRITISH MUSEUM AND ON TO SLATER MUSEUM

How and when did the original sculpture AE48 come from Egypt to the British Museum? When was he named Banofre? When did Egyptologists understand the inscriptions on the statue?

After Slater opened in November 1888, Curator Henry Watson Kent described the cast collection in his 1899 guide entitled, Catalog and Brief Description of the Plaster Reproductions of Greek and Italian Sculpture in the Slater Memorial Museum. Slater’s Assyrian and Egyptian casts are not included in this publication. Kent’s records do reveal a notation of an August 25, 1891, an order from Brucciani, the British Museum’s cast fabricator, for a cast of “Banofre, a Scribe.” That order was received on October 15, 1891.

Kent also noted that the cast of the statue was identified by “Makers No. 48,” suggesting that the EA48 designation was assigned in the 19th century (with EA standing for Egyptian Antiquities.) Established early, the numbering of the statue did not change through the years, even when the layout of the British Museum and the cast’s name did. An 1840 catalog of the British Museum, the Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum, lists “No. 48. A male statue, in basalt, seated upon a pedestal, his arms crossed on his knees which are almost as high as his chin. The front of the figure and pedestal are covered with an hieroglyphical inscription. From Mr. Salt’s Collection.”

The 1840 description implies that the hieroglyphs were not yet understood with confidence. A later 1853 catalog lists Banofre’s name and offers a plaster cast for purchase as “Banofre, a scribe,” but does not translate the elements of the inscription. The 1853 name and title were retained when the cast arrived at Slater.

Twentieth-century editions of Egyptologist’s I.E.S. Edwards’ Hieroglyphic Texts from Egyptian Stelae etc. in the British Museum (editions in 1909 and 1939) list the name as Sennefer as well as commentary and drawings of the hieroglyphs of the statue.
 
Portrait of a bearded, older man in an interior space. He wears a white turban and holds a sword across his lap.

Portrait of Muhammad Ali Pasha. Auguste Courder, c. 1840.

A LIVELY STORY UNFOLDS

In 1815 Henry Salt became consul to Egypt after his travels as an artist and private secretary to the British nobleman George Annesley, Viscount Valentia. After Napoleon’s Egyptian adventures and his downfall, interest in Egyptian antiquities boomed throughout Europe.

Salt found Egypt a scene of opportunism, influence peddling, threats, and devious shenanigans. The Ottoman administration of Egypt was in the hands of the urbane Mehmet Ali Pasha. He cultivated a court culture of influence and power in Cairo.
Salt, on arrival in Egypt, immediately moved the British consular office to Cairo. He curried favor with Ali Pasha, acting as a middleman in British trade negotiations and antiquity acquisition for the British Museum. Salt competed in collection and sales of antiquities with the unscrupulous former French Consul, Bernardino Drovetti, who had extensive contacts, knowledge of the terrain, and influence over Ali.

One anecdote recounts that on finding an ancient tomb with a large number of intact vessels, Drovetti ordered half of them smashed to increase the rarity and price of the remaining pieces.

Salt allied himself with Giovanni Battista Belzoni, an Italian engineer and inventor, who had a good relationship with Ali Pasha. Soon, Belzoni earned British fame for his export in 1815 of the colossal bust of Rameses II, which weighed more than 7 tons. England nicknamed him “The Great Belzoni.” Belzoni then worked, with Salt’s financial support, at Thebes, Abu Simbel, Karnak, and Giza among other places. In 1823, Salt sold his first Collection (1816 -1819) to the British Museum for £4,000. His explorations of Giza and the Sphinx earned him praise from the Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion for his insights in translating hieroglyphs of kings’ names.

Drovetti sold his first Collection to the king of Sardinia in 1824. Salt countered by selling his second Collection to the Louvre in 1826. Drovetti’s sold his second collection to the Louvre. Salt died in 1827, and in 1834, Salt’s estate sold his third and final collection to the British Museum for the considerable sum of £10,000
.
A small slip of paper in the British Museum’s archives records the accession of EA48 in 1829, a date reprinted in various materials over the years. A list of Salt’s first Collection includes a handwritten notation: “a small statue in black basalt about two feet six high, in a sitting position, highly polished, and hieroglyphics in front, quite perfect and entire, moderately sized, found behind Memnon’s statue.” A pencil note in the margin, “Eg. Sal. 48,” denotes the British Museum’s Egyptian Saloon and numbers assigned in an 1834 rearrangement of the Museum and explains the number 48 in the statue’s EA48 label. It also indicates that the statue was in Salt’s 1823 sale since the statue was in the museum before the arrival of works from Salt’s estate in 1835.

Dr. Strudwick connects the list’s reference to “Memnon’s statue” to another British Museum note of the findspot as “behind the statue of Amenophis III or the so-called vocal Memnon.” A separate list by Salt of his first Collection describes the statue’s findspot differently: “a small statue in black basalt about two f six i, quite perfect, bought by me in Thebes; it was found by some Arabs at the bottom of a tomb pit in one of the Tombs of Gournou.” If, indeed, the statue had been purchased from independent vendors, the noted location had been falsified to ensure that Salt would not send his own agents to search further. Such practices were standard in the competitive collection frenzy at the time.

Strudwick investigates how Salt transported his collection to England. A list of objects with notations indicates that nearly all arrived either on Ali Pasha’s frigate Diana or on a naval transport ship Dispatch. Almost all of Salt’s pieces are so assigned, excepting a handful of small objects and two statues: EA26 (a statue of Sety II) and EA 48.
 
Seated statue of an Egyptian figure.

EA26 Sety II.

Based upon a November 1819 letter about EA26 from Sir Joseph Banks to Lord Mountnorris, Strudwick concludes that these two statues were likely sent ahead of other shipments to indicate the quality of his finds. “One of Salt’s statues has arrived...in his opinion, the best he has. I am taking measures to have it removed to the British Museum and placed there in public view, preparatory to the arrival of the rest of the collection.”

Strudwick found yet another element of mystery about Slater’s cast. Along with other items of Salt’s first Collection is “No. 67. Statue of Isis, in basalt, seated upon a pedestal, her arms crossed upon her knees, which are almost as high as her chin. The front of the figure and pedestal are covered with an hieroglyphical inscription. From Mr Salt’s Collection.” Strudwick concludes that this description is also of Slater’s cast original. Citing the posture of a block statue, he notes that “the mistaken gender indicates unfamiliarity with Egyptian art, although any figure with a wig seems to have been considered female... “Isis” seems to be a term in these early (British Museum) synopses for such supposed feminine statues; for example, the same synopsis calls the statue of Sety II a statue of Isis.” Later pencil notations in the archives also link No. 67 to the later No. 48.
 
In 1823, on their arrival at the British Museum, Salt’s Egyptian Collection was mysterious to the British audience. Strudwick comments that none of the British Museum staff at this time were specialists in Egyptian art or language. The British Museum staff did not consistently track objects until after Samuel Birch arrived at the British Museum in 1836. He introduced a systematic record keeping (“Birch Slips”). Birch devoted scholarly research to learning to read hieroglyphs to understand their contexts, and he published about hieroglyphs repeatedly between 1840 and 1880.
 
Egyptian statue. A man a woman are seated next to each other. They each have an arm around the other's back.

Statue of Sennefer and his Wife Sentnay, from Karnak, c. 1410 BCE.


LEARNING ABOUT SENNEFER(S)

Searching for Sennefer online reveals more than one ancient Egyptian with this name. One Sennefer, with statues in the Petrie Museum in London and Cairo (shown at the middle of this page with his wife Sentnay) was a mayor of Thebes during the reign of Amenhotep II. Among many excavated Theban tombs and paintings on the west bank of the Nile in the Theban Necropolis across from Luxor, lies his well-preserved tomb.

The Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University in England maintains an extensive website about our Sennefer’s Tomb, Theban Tomb 99 [TT99] [https://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/tt99/index.html. Dr. Nigel Strudwick, the lead professor of this site, has published extensively about Slater’s original. His work reveals further connections to the ancient Sennefer, also referred to as Senneferi. The word “nefer” means “good” and is part of many other Egyptian names, like Nefertiti or Nefertari.

The TT99 website reveals that the hieroglyphs on the top of the pedestal at either side of the figure’s body refer to Sennefer’s parents, Haydjehuty and Satdjehuty. These names appear in his tomb, further connecting the actual man Sennefer, the statue EA48, and his resting place, TT99.
 
 
 
 
two sets of hieroglyps demonstrating the difference between the work Senneferi and Sennefer

Sennefer’s name in hieroglyphs.

The job title on Sennefer’s statue names him as “overseer of seal bearers, overseer of the gold land of Amun.” In Thebes in the New Kingdom, the “overseer of sealbearers” was the senior official concerned with the Pharaoh’s financial matters, including foreign trade, taxes, and tribute. Sennefer was a man of wealth and influence, not a mere scribe. Sennefer’s father had a less prestigious title, “overseer of the bureau of Watet-Hor,” a place listed in other tombs as rich in
vineyards.

A papyrus in the Louvre also mentions Sennefer, and records grain movements during the reign of Thutmose III, establishing his dates near 1420 BCE. Sennefer is also linked to activity in two quarries. At Gebel Silsila, where sandstone for Thebes was quarried, he built a shrine, possibly to Hatshepsut (1507-1458 BCE). At Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai, he appears in carvings dedicated to Thutmose III (1479-1425BCE).

Two additional statues in the Cairo Museum and one in Vienna portray Sennefer. Neither is of the quality and condition of the British Museum piece.The tomb of Sennefer, TT99, also brings to light the name of his wife, Tiamu, their daughter, Renena, and a statue of his son-in-law, Amenhotep.

The inscriptions on Slater’s cast now connect to three generations of historical people, multiple sites, memorials, and records.
 
Remnants of an ancient shroud with hieroglyphs written across the material

Linen shroud bearing the name ‘Senneferi’

 

Four fragments of an ancient paprus. The material is tattered and displays hieroglyphs written across each piece.

Papyrus fragments from Sennefer’s tomb.

An astonishing small limestone fragment called an ostrakon (plural: ostraka) from the tomb is also fascinating. Egyptians used these ostraka as we might use a shopping list, the back of an envelope, or a post-it note. On this small ostrakon from 1430 BC appears the earliest authenticated writing of a Semitic alphabet or abecedary alongside its equivalent sounds in Egyptian hieratic writing.

SENNEFER’S GIFTS TO SCHOLARSHIP: A LINEN SHROUD, PAPYRI, AND AN OSTRAKON


The contents of Sennefer’s tomb have yielded new information about his era. A shroud of his mummy survives, showing writings from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Shrouds like this one disappear about the time of Thutmose III, and later writings of the Book of the Dead are commonly on papyrus, a far more fragile material. Several hundred papyrus fragments in Sennefer’s tomb show that he lived during a time of transition in funeral practices.

 

 

 

fragment of a stone with ancient lettering written with black ink

Sennefer Ostrakon.

UNDERSTANDING SENNEFER’S HIEROGLYPHS
When did Western scholars first understand the writing on Sennefer’s statue?

Possibly the earliest published translation of this writing appears in a note in Percy Newberry’s Proceedings of the Society for Biblical Archaeology 22 (1900). Newberry recorded the name Sennefer and made the connection between the tomb TT 99 and the British Museum statue EA48. Newberry also understood that both places recorded the names of Sennefer’s parents. By 1927 Sir Alan Gardiner had advanced the understanding of Middle Egyptian language and anchored the foundations of modern studies in his Egyptian Grammar.

Strudwick’s most recent publication and translation of the text of EA48 appears in The Tomb of Pharaoh’s Chancellor Senneferi at Thebes (TT99), vol. I: The New Kingdom (2016). It includes three sections of text.

Lines 1-12 specify many traditional praises and offerings and end with Sennefer’s name:
“An offering that the king gives and that Osiris gives, foremost of the Westerners, the Great God among the gods, the first official of officialdom, the foremost of the noble ones since the antiquity of the land in respect of the king the herdsman/guardian of the rekyt, lord of the living, in charge of ‘those who are there’, who acts (as) the mouth in charge of what is and what is not, that he may give invocation offerings of bread, beer, oxen and fowl, and all good and pure things which heaven gives and the earth creates, that which Hapy brings from his hole, in the form of an ‘offering which the king gives’ for the gods, in the form of an invocation offering for the akh spirits, (all) for the ka of the iry-pat-haty-a, seal-bearer of the king, sole companion, great chief in the house of the king, who promotes (his) place in the house of the king, firm of sandals in the audience chamber, who judges for the courtiers, who makes the pat and the rekhyt content, the royal messenger, he who hears what is heard in private, who enters carrying perfect items and who exits bearing praise while making plans of this land in private, none seeing, none hearing, who is content with everything which he says, for one is satisfied with what has come forth from his mouth, beloved of the king in relation to his exactitude of his heart (for) he is beloved in the manner of gold and lapis lazuli, an official to whom the heart is opened, who does not push aside that which is said to him: the mayor of Letopolis, overseer of priests of Min of Koptos, the supervisor of the daily offerings in the house of Amun-Re, pure of arms, clean of fingers, when he offers to the moon-god Thoth, the royal messenger, overseer of seal-bearers, the brave one, Sennefer, true of voice.”

Lines 13-18 are spoken as if by Sennefer:
“Look. I am this akh spirit who repays (good) conduct, for I am prepared like a man who is upon earth; my character does not go astray; my form does not transgress, for my’ trueness of voice’ is in accordance with the favours of the king; I eat their bread and beer and I drink their water. I am offered to daily at the side of the Lord of All. Look, one sends me commands of hetep and henket offerings in every month and my garland (is made of) garlic in the festival of Sokar and bryony and sart in the (divine) presence for the span of eternity.”

Line 19 indicates the one assigned to set up the statue:
“The functionary of the overseer of the seal-bearers, Minnakht”
The columns to the left and right honor Sennefer’s parents.
Left, his father:
“Engendered of the overseer of the office in watt-her, Haydjehuty, true of voice”
Right, his mother:
“ Born of the royal ornament, Satdjehuty, true of voice in the sight of Osiris”
 
CONCLUSIONS, TIME, PRIDE 

One hundred and thirty years have passed since Henry Watson Kent saw this lovely plaster cast of an Egyptian statue arrive at Slater Memorial Museum. Through the decades, students have moved by it on the stairs, unaware of its identity. Two hundred years have passed since Henry Salt recognized the aesthetic value of a black granodiorite statue, purchased it, and decided to bring it from Thebes to England. Nearly three thousand five hundred years ago this sculpture commemorated Sennefer, trusted, honest and careful steward of the Pharaohs Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. He served the woman pharaoh, Hatshepsut, and the successful general, Pharaoh Thutmose III. While ancient Egyptian cultural traditions changed slowly, Sennefer saw funeral practices change from recording passages of the Book of the Dead on linen cloth shrouds to friable papyrus. He may have witnessed the spread of writing to other cultures, and he may have been familiar with Semitic languages.

Sennefer’s parents, Haydjehuty and Satdjehuty, would be proud to know that we now know the identity of Slater’s statue. It is the statue of their son -- a dutiful, religious man, a mayor, a trusted chancellor, a person of integrity, “true of voice.” How exciting that we are to learn the fascinating history of this man’s commemorative statue. How delighted we are to have a nearly pristine cast of a rare and extraordinary sculpture.
 
Author's Note: I would like to thank Dr. Nigel Strudwick without whose help this article would not have been possible. He so kindly gave permission to reference his website about Senneferi and shared his research concerning Henry Salt’s acquisition of BA48 and the records of the British Museum.