Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK

All the ostraka described below come from the collection formed by R.G. Gayer-Anderson (1881-1945). He lived in Egypt between 1906 and 1942 as an army medical officer, a senior civil servant and a private collector. In 1942 he left his Cairo house called Beit el-Kreatlia, to the Egyptian Government as a museum of Islamic art. He moved to Lavenham, England, to one of the
best preserved of the Suffolk wool towns. Together with his twin brother, he restored Little Hall, a 14th century house built by a family of clothiers. They filled the house with a variety of art and artefacts collected during their extensive travels.
Gayer-Anderson donated part of the collection of Egyptian antiquities to Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The artefacts arrived between 1943 and 1949.
Altogether the Fitzwilliam Museum obtained 46 pieces of ostraka. 15 of these have sketches on both verso and recto, so the number of representations is 61. Majority - 54 - are images
of figures, only 4 carry text.
Little Hall, the Tudor house of
Gayer-Andersons' at Lavenham
The British Museum also received some artefacts form the collection.
The Gayer-Anderson' cat
British Museum
Late Period, about 664-332 BC.
The material is mostly limestone, there are 2 terracotta shreds and 1 grey stone. The ostraka below are all painted, but the museum collection contains also examples of figures carved in relief - rather products of sculpture than of drawing.
The ostraka are drawn in black and/or red ink, but yellow and grey pigments also appear. The exact provenance of the collection is not known. They are dated on the evidence of stylistic criteria or names present in inscriptions. They can be assigned to the 18th-20th dynasties. Most pieces are considered to come from Deir el-Medina.
Images of Fitzwilliam Museum objects and any text by the Fitzwilliam Museum reproduced on this site are ©The Fitzwilliam Museum and are subject to The Fitzwilliam Museum's Website Copyright Terms and Conditions which can be read at
Photography by Andy and Lenka Peacock, all images reproduced with the kind permission of the Fitzwilliam Museum,
Ostrakon of an unshaven stone mason
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
13.5x15 cm.
Red and black line drawing
Ramesside period, 1200-1153 BC
The drawing of the head and the upper arms of a stone mason
leaning forward while working. The man's head is bald, his
beard is stippled and his mouth is open. Possibly, he is meant to be singing, while at work or he is gasping for air inside a dusty tomb. He is endowed with an overly large ear and bulbous nose. He is gripping the tools of his trade, the copper chisel in his left hand and the wooden mallet in his right hand. The subject of this ostrakon is unique, unparalleled in the official art of Egypt.
On the reverse of the ostrakon scribe Imyshe, son of
Nebnefer, makes an offering to the snake goddess Meretseger.
Ostrakon of a man driving a bull
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
15x12 cm.
New Kingdom
Possibly from Deir el-Medina
The body of the man is painted red, the wig, his kilt grey and the stick in his left hand black. The bull is being driven in front of the man. The animal is outlined in black and painted red with black markings - composed of patterns of dots, stripes and solid patches of colour. The scene is beautifully drawn. It is one of the finest examples of its kind.
Ostrakon of a bull
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge E.GA.4297.1943.
8x7 cm.
Black line drawing
New Kingdom
Drawing in black of a bull, walking towards right. The motif is common in Egyptian art and this example is the product of a stylistic tradition already hundreds of years old. Such bulls are to be found among the wall reliefs of paintings in almost every tomb, in scenes of agriculture, cattle breeding, among processions of offering bearers, or in funerals. Although this drawing is simple, it is a skilled artist's study. Faint correction
lines can be detected in several places: along the shoulder, the back and the croup.
Ostraka of monkeys
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
E.GA.4292.1943. E.GA.4293.1943.
11x9.75 cm (left), 8.5x13 cm (right)
Late 18th dynasty - early 19th dynasty, 1350-1250 BC
Black line drawing, with red, yellow and grey paint
Two monkeys wearing belts or ribbons are shown on the two flakes below. It is not possible to establish whether the author/s of these drawings tried to represent their beloved pets or whether the drawings reflect a narrative but they do not look like preliminary drawings for walls in tombs. The presence of the girdles tied around their wastes indicate they are domestic pets (Houlihan,1996,210). In the scene on the left the monkey climbs a trunk of dom palm tree to pick some of its ripe nuts and turns its head to look over his shoulder. He is sketchily painted, his face is human and he wears a tiered male wig. His human
aspect might refer to the mischievous behaviour of a child.

In the scene on the right, a monkey runs on all four looking over his shoulder at a person walking behind him holding a stick. The person is only partly preserved. The drawing displays more detail than the previous one.
Ostrakon showing a war chariot
speeding over rocky ground
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
15x8.5 cm.
Black and red outlines with black and red paint
New Kingdom
Ostrakon of a woman riding on a stallion
11.3x7.5 cm.
Black and red line drawing with red paint.
19th dynasty
The drawing shows a nude rider, possibly a woman, riding towards right on a stallion. The ground-line slopes upwards. The horse has a short upright mane, and wears a bridle. The
woman holds a stick or staff in her left hand. She wears an amulet on a long string around her neck.
The black outline has been laid over preliminary red lines. Both bodies have been painted red.
Figures on horseback are not common but do occur in ancient Egyptian art. A similar scene on an ostrakon in Berlin was identified as Astarte, the Syrian goddess of love and war. It is possible this ostrakon depicts the same topic.
Ostrakon of a cat
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
9x11 cm
Red line drawing
New Kingdom
This piece carries the drawing of a seated cat facing towards the right. The 1st sketch as well as the final drawing were both made in red paint. This simple portrait was probably a practice piece.
Drawing of an unkept man carrying bags on a stick, possibly a yoke
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge E.106.1949.
13.9x9.8 cm.
Late dynasty XIX - 3rd Intermediate
Period, 1295-1069 BC
On this pot-sherd a field worker is depicted with baskets or bags yoked over his far shoulder. The man is shown balding,
with hunched shoulders, thin limbs and a walking stick in his free hand.
Drawing of a seated Seth-animal
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge E.GA.4300.1943.
9.5x8 cm.
Black line drawing over red outline
New Kingdom
Possibly from Deir el-Medina.
This small ostracon shows a hieroglyph in the form of the seated Seth-animal, looking towards Along the right broken edge, part of the outline of a cartouche is visible, which may once have contained the name of one of the ramesside kings. On the upper broken edge are traces of some vertical red lines.
Drawing of a lion's head
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
13.5x10 cm.
Pink pottery
Red and black line drawing
Ramesside Period
This motif of a lion's head looking to the left occurs 3 times on the inner and outer surfaces of this fragment from a flat pottery plate. On the inside (pictured) is a large scale study of the head of a lion with a closed mouth, executed in black paint with quick, broad strokes. Underneath this drawing, in red, is the vigorous sketch of the rearing head of a lion about to charge,
with open jaws and outstretched tongue as of an attacking animal. The drawings are work of a master artist.
Drawing of an owl
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
9.5x14.5 cm.
Red and black line drawing
Ramesside Period, about 1305-1080 B.C.
This well preserved ostrakon bears a detailed drawing of the upper half of the hieroglyphic sign "m", an owl. The initial outline was made in red, and overlaid in black. The arrangement and form of the different feathers has been skilfully and precisely reproduced. Although the head is turned full face, the neck, right wing, and left leg (which is just hinted at) are shown in a side view. The drawing may be classified as
a study of a model hieroglyph.
Drawing of a jackal
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
10x11 cm.
Red and black line drawing, with black paint
Ramesside Period
On this fragment there is a scene showing a jackal wearing a robe and carrying a sceptre. Below is a captive calf/goat.
Large ostrakon
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.E.GA.4298.1943.
42x27 cm.
Black line drawing recto and verso
From Thebes, possibly from Deir el-Medina
According to inscription, 19th dynasty
A number of themes seem to have been used to explore by the artist of this ostrakon. The most prominent design is of a shrine doorway represented in the centre. To the left of the door, the figure of the standing donor is represented. He is an official, which is denoted by the staff of office he holds in his left hand. Above him there is a drawing of a head of the god Ptah with a
cap and beard. On the right side of the door there is a line of hieroglyphic text, which reads "Conquer the people of the Nine Bows" (a symbolic designation of enemies of Egypt). The whole drawing is an example of the finest workmanship, and must have been produced as a design for a door which the owner had commissioned with this sketch.
The Nine Bows
This is an ancient term that collectively referred to the enemies of Ancient Egypt. The name could originate from their use of bows and arrows in warfare or because of their ritual of physically "breaking the bows" of defeated foes as a metaphor for military defeat - but the original reason is not known. The actual enemies that this refers to were a matter of choice that reflected the current contact with neighbours and their relations with them - but the selection generally included Asiatics,
Sand Dwellers and Nubians.

The Nine Bows were often represented as a number of arrows (not always nine) and this design was used to decorate some royal furniture and thrones. On monuments the Nine Bows could also be represented as rows of bound captives. The Nine Bows, surmounted with a Jackal, was also the 'seal' of the Valley of the Kings.
Shabti of Sennedjem
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge E.9.1887.
Limestone with pigment
Height 21.5 cm.
From Deir el-Medina, Tomb 1 of Sennedjem
New Kingdom, 19th dynasty, reign of Seti I,
1294-1279 BC
The shabti holds a broad bladed hoe against his right shoulder and a hoe with pointed blade against his left shoulder. A basket for seeds is depicted on his back, slung by a rope over his right shoulder. The text invokes the shabti as a servant, literally
"hearer of the call", to act on behalf of Sennedjem if required at any of the works which are done in the necropolis.
1.The museum's own labels
2. Brunner, Emma : Egyptian artists' sketches : figured ostraka from the Gayer-Anderson collection in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Leiden : Netherlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut le Istanbul, 1979.
3.Images of Fitzwilliam Museum objects and any text by the Fitzwilliam Museum reproduced on this site are ©The Fitzwilliam Museum and are subject to The Fitzwilliam Museum's Website Copyright Terms and Conditions which can
be read at