In ancient Egypt, a tomb was not simply a place for the burial of remains, but rather the site of quite literal rebirth. Here, the individual's soul was born again, into the afterlife. But surprisingly, the ancient Egyptians believed that to make this rebirth possible for a woman, it was necessary that she briefly turn into a man, in order to conceive the fetus of her reborn self. Guided by new research inspired in part by feminist scholarship, our collection exhibition A Woman's Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egyptexplores how this process was thought to take place.
During the Amarna period, artists portrayed the king and queen as beings who combined male and female traits. The king's gender-flexibility ensured the fertility of the earth and all living creatures. A royal male with female sexual characteristics was the source for the belief that individuals could assume both male and female traits in the tomb.
Here, the king's distended belly reveals that he is pregnant. This feminized vision of a king has narrow shoulders, a soft torso, and female breasts. The king's red skin, understood to be the color of the disk of the sun, associated him with the sun-god Re: after death, all Egyptians hoped for transformation into Re-Osiris to travel to and then live in the afterlife.