The tomb has a typical T-shaped plan, but it was cut 180 degrees from the usual orientation because of problems with local geology. Thus, scenes that normally would appear on a tomb’s west wall are here painted on its east. We will refer to the walls as left and right, front and back to minimize confusion.
Userhet held the title of Scribe Who Counts Bread in Upper and Lower Egypt, meaning that he was responsible for inventorying the grain that came to the royal bakeries, tallying the number of loaves they produced, working to minimize theft and waste, and then ensuring that the bread was properly distributed. The position is a good example of New Kingdom Egypt’s tightly-organized and micro-managed bureaucracy.
FIRST CHAMBER, RIGHT FRONT WALL Userhet stands with his wife, Mutnefret, and one of their daughters before burnt offerings piled high on four alabaster stands. He pours myrrh onto the offerings to sweeten the smoke that will float heavenward to honor Osiris and Hathor. The offerings are standard ones: loaves of bread, heads of lettuce, vegetables, and cuts of beef. Userhet’s brown skin appears pink through the transparent garment he wears over his starched kilt. Behind him, his wife and daughter stand in tight-fitting cloaks, wearing wigs and jewels, offering bouquets of flowers. Several columns of text have apparently been erased or painted over.
Early Christian monks drew an elaborate cross over Userhet’s body.
To the right, Userhet inspects five registers of cattle and harvest activity. In the upper two registers, cattle are driven forward to be tallied by government scribes as part of an official census. At top, calves jump playfully about in fields of grass and small trees, but in the register below, they have been forced into a more orderly procession so they can be more easily counted. At right, a cow lovingly licks her calf. In the third register, the cattle have been lassoed and their legs tied. Hot irons are used to brand their left shoulder. To their right, two servants prostrate themselves before Userhet, kissing the ground at his feet ready to report the tally.
In the fourth register, nine men carry large baskets of grain under the watchful eye of their supervisors, and again scribes record the quantities being delivered. In the badly damaged lower register, farmhands harvest fields of flax.
LEFT END WALL A false door has been painted to resemble red granite, a material much more valuable than limestone. Above the false door, two couples are seated before great piles of food offerings. Several names are given, but we do not know the relationship of these couples to Userhet or his wife. Left and right of the false door, priests purify Userhet in the first stages of the Opening of the Mouth ritual.
The left rear wall of this chamber is badly damaged, but next to the doorway Userhet and his wife receive offerings from their children. This is a formal scene, even more rigidly drawn than usual, but a small monkey, eating a fig beneath Mutnefret’s chair, adds a lighter touch. Near him sits a finely painted conical basket.
On the right side of the rear wall, soldiers have loaded baskets with quantities of bread for distribution to the troops. Userhet’s job required that he oversee these activities. In the upper registers, well-dressed officers inspect their rations of bread, beer, and wine. Some hold lotus flowers to their nose. (Drinking wine and nibbling lotus flowers produced a mild narcotic effect.) Below, ordinary soldiers lug huge baskets of bread to be inspected by an official whose whip suggests that he expects to uncover an occasional irregularity in the quantities.
At left, in the top register, soldiers march across a tree-covered field toward two officers who carry staffs, symbols of their rank. The soldiers hold empty bags in their hands, ready to receive their daily food rations from the storeroom standing beyond the tree at right.
In two registers below, recruits lazily wait their turn for a haircut. Some sit on chairs (like the two men sharing a stool, lower right), while others sit on the ground. Some doze beneath a tree, and all look bored. Two barbers, razors in hand, bowls of water at their feet, shave the heads of each recruit in turn. Real-life scenes like this can still be seen in small, isolated Upper Egyptian villages when an itinerant barber will set up shop in a village and men come for a shave and a haircut, gossiping or discussing football as they wait their turn.
On the right end of the right rear wall, king Amenhetep II sits in an elaborate booth receiving offerings from the deceased Userhet. Here, Userhet is shown with red hair, a feature often associated with the god Seth. It is unusual for a royal figure to be shown with bodyguards, but the bowing men on the end wall at the pharaoh’s right may be just that.
On the right end wall is a painted round-topped stela flanked by offering bearers and topped by a winged sun disk and figures of Osiris. No text was written on it. A small niche cut into the base of this wall is now covered by wire mesh. If you have a light, peer inside: the niche is filled with clay bread molds that may have belonged to Userhet himself.
On the left front wall of the transverse hall, Userhet, followed by his wife, again stands before well-drawn piles of food offerings. At left, three women sit with children on their laps—two girls, one boy. The women are the nurses who tended Userhet’s children. Two men at right offer them bouquets. Note how the arm of the man at right stretches beyond anatomical possibility to reach past his colleague and present a lotus blossom to the children.
ENTRANCE TO THE LONG HALL The lintel of this elaborate door has a cavetto cornice and below it, scenes of Userhet, Osiris, and Anubis. Columns of text on the two jambs list standard offerings.
LONG HALL, LEFT WALL The hunting scene shown here is the best-painted scene in KV 56. Userhet stands confidently in his chariot, the reins tied around his waist as his two horses race at full gallop across the rough desert surface. Such a pose would have been impossible in real life; certainly, Userhet would have ridden with an experienced charioteer, and even then would probably have had to hold on for dear life. But this is an idealized hunt, where nothing can go wrong, where Userhet can plant his feet, draw his bow, take aim, and kill prey who cannot possibly survive his terrible power.
Such hunting scenes were commonplace in Egyptian tombs from predynastic times onward, but rarely were they drawn with such vivacity, self-assurance and such a minimum of fuss as here. Not a brush stroke is wasted, and the animals’ terror, the tautness of their muscles, and the death throes of those hit and bleeding, is palpable. Simply by abandoning the use of a ground line and drawing the animals in scattershot disorder on the wall, the artist has conveyed their fear and the mayhem of death. Actually, the scene is carefully composed: brush strokes, poses, and placement draw the viewer directly into the heart of the action. Rabbits flee, leaping high in the air, their long ears flapping, racing past dazed gazelle with blood gushing from their wounds.
A fox has impaled itself on a small barbed shrub trying to escape the carnage. Too weak to move, it slowly bleeds to death.
It is difficult to believe that this superb hunting scene was drawn by the same hand that painted the mundane fishing and fowling scene next to it, although apparently that was the case. The fishing scene seems bland, slapdash, and lacking the detail that made similar scenes in the tombs of Menna and Nakht so impressive. Even the early Coptic monks who visited the tomb thought the scene needed improvement: they drew crude four-legged animals on the papyrus skiffs.
Egyptologists who have studied the tomb of Userhet believe that three artists worked here, and the man who painted the scenes on this wall was also responsible for the right rear wall, the right end wall, and the far right front wall of the first chamber. A second artist was responsible for the rest of the first chamber, and a third undertook work on the right wall of the long hall.
There is a nice scene of vintners at work. Men balance themselves by holding onto vines, hanging from a cross bar as they trample grapes in a shallow clay vat. Scribes record the quantities of the vintage-dated wine and men work in the arbor filling baskets with bunches of grapes. To their left, three men pull in a bird net beside a papyrus thicket. This is a small and simply done scene, but three ducks standing on a table are drawn with skill and confidence. At far right, Userhet makes offerings to the goddess Renenutet. Beyond her, there was a fishing scene that is now destroyed.
LONG HALL, REAR WALL A small niche was cut in this narrow wall in which seated figures of Userhet and his wife Mutnefret were carved. Today, only her figure remains.
LONG HALL, RIGHT WALL On the long right wall, a series of scenes record the ceremonies held when Userhet died. A shrine that holds Userhet’s mummy is pulled by cattle toward his tomb. Priests and offering bearers walk in the procession carrying funerary equipment and offerings. Mourners wail as the shrine passes, but the artist has failed to capture the emotions of these rigidly posed women. In registers below, huge quantities of offerings are depicted in formal rows and in the hands of bearers marching toward the tomb. The scenes are standard ones and not especially well-drawn—the proportions of the figures are wrong, for example—but the drawing of Userhet’s lively, prancing horse is a delight. Its curved neck and cropped mane, high tail, and nervous pose give it character. In the lower register, a flotilla of boats makes the pilgrimage to Abydos. Userhet’s mummy is in the center boat, towed by four others. Some of the figures in this scene are less formally posed than the figures in pilgrimage scenes in other tombs.
From" The Illustrated Guide to Luxor" by kent R.Weeks ,published by the American University in Cairo Press. Copyright © 2005 White Star S.p.a