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Cast of an Osiris-canopus vase, plaster (displayed on top of the cast of a Roman candelabrum M500).

Early 19th century, cast
This is an early 19th century cast of a Roman (Hadrianic) original.

Museum number: M499

Curatorial note

This cast seems to be taken from an Osiris-Canopus vase discovered in the Antinoeion at the Emperor Hadrian's villa (Villa Adriana) at Tivoli in the middle of the eighteenth century and now in the Vatican Museums (Museo Gregoriano Egizio: Vatican inventory no. 22852).

The God is depicted wearing a crown and on his chest is a protective winged scarab wearing a sundisk and cow-horns. The beetle is probably a reference to re-birth in the after life and commonly appears on Egyptian coffins. Around the base is a wreath.

The origin of 'Osiris Canopus' is complex. The Hellenistic town of Canopus in Egypt was the old town of Peguati which the Greeks believed had been the landing place of the legendary Paris and Helen of Troy in Egypt and subsequently of her husband Menelaos and his helmsman, Canopus, who had died there. A mausoleum and town were built on the site, which took his name. Ptolemy III Euergetes I dedicated a temple there to the Egyptian Osiris and the Osiris of Canopus soon became known as "Canopus" after the town. It seems that in the 1st century BC this Orsiris was given the strange form of a jar with a human head, a new iconography which perhaps derived from the usual mummy shape of Osiris.1

These images may have served a funerary purpose because they are representations of Osiris, god of the afterlife, but they also seem to have been used in temples and in houses as personal shrines. Osiris Canopus was closely associated in Egypt with the Iseic cult (the cult of the Goddess Isis)and there are a number of Roman depictions of such statues being carried in procession to temples of Isis in Rome. It is not known whether they were developed in Egypt or Italy. Statues of priests holding an Osiris Canopus jar appear in both countries at around the same time in the first century AD.

1 Anne Roulle, The Egyptian and Egyptianizing Monuments of Imperial Rome, 1972, pp.98-100.


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