Ancient Egyptians preserved the human body after death using a process called mummification. Major organs were removed and placed in special vessels called canopic jars, which were kept inside the tomb. The jars were traditionally decorated with the four sons of the god Horus: Qebehsenuef (hawk head), Hapy (baboon head), Duamutef (jackal head), and Imsety (human head). They guarded the intestines, lungs, stomach and liver respectively.
The heart was left inside the body to be weighed in the afterlife to determine if the person had led a good life. The brain was thrown away as it was not considered as important as other organs. The mummified body was then placed in a series of coffins, for example the Lid from the inner anthropoid coffin of Iret-[en]-Hor-eru, 747–600 BCE. This coffin lid is decorated with text asking the god Osiris for sustenance in the afterlife and figures of the gods to protect the owner in the next world.
From the late eighteenth century, Egyptian art became popular in Europe. Europeans took inspiration from Egyptian canopic jars and created works such as the Wedgwood Canopic vase, c. 1810, which was made in England as a decorative object.
Introduce your students to the related works of art and use the following discussion prompts to explore Egyptian ideas and beliefs:
Students create their own canopic jar design using the following steps:
Students share their portrait with a partner: