Userhat Receiving Offerings from Nut Beneath the Sycamore Tree
Updated: Jun 21, 2022
Userhat, also called Neferhabef, lived during the reigns of Horemheb and Ramesses I and died during the reign of Seti I in c. 1294-1279 BC.
He was a wab-priest with the title of “first prophet of the royal Ka of Thutmosis I” and served in the Temple of Thutmosis I. This was dedicated to continuing the funerary cult of the king that had died 200 years earlier, and Userhat’s hereditary position profited him greatly. He was able to afford a sumptuously decorated tomb in Thebes (TT51), the decoration of which is considered some of the finest examples of Dynasty 19 art known.
Type: Tomb painting
Date: Dynasty 19, reign of Seti I (c. 1294-1279 BC)
Findspot: Tomb of Userhat (TT51), Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, Thebes
Print Reference: DP57
The paintings in the Tomb of Userhat have degraded significantly due to vandalism, so this reproduction was made using a watercolour done by Norman de Garis Davies in the 1930s, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In this scene, the deceased Userhat meets Nut, the goddess of the sycamore tree. He sits with his wife and mother sit in the shade of a colourful sycamore tree and is receiving the water Nut is pouring for them in three golden vessels. Before them is a table laden with offerings of fruit, vegetables and flowers, whilst their souls in the form of Ba-birds fly above their heads and stand on a T-shaped pool.
Nut, the Goddess
Often represented as a tree with arms, here the feminine spirit of the tree, Nut, is shown in human form standing upon a rectangular pool of water. Identified by the sycamore tree on her head, Nut wears a tight-fitting red dress decorated with blue and gold beads.
In her right hand, she holds a vase, which she uses to pour water into the vessels held by the three figures. In her left hand, she holds out a mat upon which are loaves of bread, grapes, figs, a pomegranate, a melon, and a bouquet of lotus flowers and buds.
In Userhat’s tomb, the registers for the hieroglyphs to accompany this scene are blank, but we can get a sense of what would have been here from a similar scene in the Tomb of Paser in Thebes (TT106):
The speech of Nut, the great one, working wonders in her name of the sycamore:
'I have presented you with this cool water that your heart may be thereby refreshed - this water, which comes from your pool in the necropolis on the west of Thebes. You have received small and tasty food in the fruit which springs from my limbs. Your bird-soul sits in my shade and drinks water to its heart's content’.
Userhat, the Deceased
The main subject of the image is Userhat himself, dressed in a white pleated garment with beaded cross-straps and white sandals on his feet. He is seated on an elaborate ebony chair inlaid with gold and with lion feet. In one hand, Userhat holds a vessel to receive the nourishing water of Nut whilst the other reaches towards the platter of fruit she is also offering.
He wears a red ribbon and a gold fillet around his head as well as a tall cone of perfumed wax on top, a symbol used in festival scenes to indicate the person was purified and sweet-smelling. Along with his floral collar and jewelled bracelets, he also wears an amulet around his neck combining the djed symbol of stability and the tiet knot of security.
Hatshepsut and Tausret
Two women are sitting on fine chairs with Userhat in the shade of the leafy sycamore tree with their hands resting on Userhat’s shoulder and arm. They too are receiving water from the goddess in golden vessels.
In the foreground is “His wife, Mistress of the House and Chantress of Amun, Hatshepsut”, and tucked behind her is “His mother, Chantress of Amun, Tausret”. It is unusual to find the mother and wife seated together and the women are painted with an unusual degree of naturalness, particularly when compared to the formal figure of the goddess.
The bare-footed women wear long white dresses, broad colourful necklaces, and jewelled bracelets on their arms. Upon their elaborately braided hair are floral garlands and a tall cone of perfumed wax. Under the seats of the two women is a plant goblet containing fruits and cucumbers and a floral collar with more lotus flowers.
Between Userhat and Nut is a T-shaped pool of water with two birds standing upon it with human heads. These are the souls of Userhat and his wife, who are scooping up water with their hands and eating from a basket of food before them.
A sycamore tree forms the backdrop for Userhat and his family and its dense foliage is dotted with fruits at varying stages of maturity and three small sparrows. The soul birds of Hatshepsut and Tausret flutter above them within the branches.
Tomb of Nakhtamon (TT341)
Tomb of Panehesy (TT16)
Tomb of Peser (TT106)
Overview of tomb: TT51, the tomb of Userhat
Digitised book: Two Ramesside tombs at Thebes (Davies, 1927)
Paper: The Sycamore in Ancient Egypt: Textual, Iconographic and Archaeopalynological Thoughts (Azzazy and Ezzat, 2016)