BEER BREWER, Fifth Dynasty (2400 B.C.)
Sculpture with important polychromic trace and hieroglyphs « fty mhy » inscribed on the base
50 x 37 x 20.5 cm
6th floor corridor
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin Egypt
Donating country Egypt
Donation made to UNESCO by Egypt in 1968.
© Photo : UNESCO
All rights reserved

This limestone statue represents an individual of stocky proportions, with “skin” painted in a dark color and hair, eyes and eyebrows painted black, in keeping with the artistic canons of Ancient Egypt. The standards of the period wanted that the size of the statue usually reflect the social position of the person it embodied. For instance, the pharaoh’s statues were larger than life-size; those of the scribes had life-sized proportions whereas those of servants and peasants measured at most 50 centimeters, as does this particular sculpture.

This solemn and frontal seated position typifies Egyptian art and recalls the pose always used for royal couples and high dignitaries. This posture indicates that the individual might very well be the holder of a brasserie, who managed his own workshop. The figure is depicted wearing a short loincloth with a flap held by a knot hidden under the belt, typical Egyptian clothing of the time. He also wears a wig and a traditional pectoral necklace. In his left hand he holds a scepter of small scale indicating authority. It appears that the role of brewer and more so of master, was important enough for the individual to have his own hieroglyphics inscription at the base of the statue: “fty mhy here indicates the name of this workshop master.

It is important to note that the documents we have concerning the production of beer are mostly accounting, administrative or technical ones written by brasserie masters and their accountants. Certain clay tablets, such as those found in Ninive in the 1840s, indicate that beer was actually instead of money in order to pay the stonemasons who built the pyramids. Tombs are also a good source of information for beer production; other vestiges such as the fresco of Kenamon, Amenophis II in Sheik el Gurna (near Luxor) illustrate the manufacturing of a so-called beer called “zythum”, evoked by the famous writer Strabon (1st century B.C.). Beer production was in fact a major and essential industry within a context where water cleanliness was a problem. “Zythum” was consumed under any circumstance: in the fields, on boats, during receptions, in cabarets, also called “houses of beer”… Ramses II, who was also nicknamed the “Brewer Pharaoh”, actively contributed to the implantation of beer and its presence in the first brasseries. Pharaohs themselves actually mastered the art of brewing which, according to legend, was taught by the god of agriculture Osiris and put under the protection of the goddess of barley, Isis.

This statue was to accompany the deceased in his tomb as an indication of his profession and status during his lifetime; it was not the mummy in itself that ensured life’s continuity, but the statue. This is why statues were so numerous and carefully arranged in the “serdab” (chamber of statues). This sculpture would then be destined to shelter the deceased’s “ka”, or his spiritual twin and essential element to his rebirth in the Hereafter.

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