Maat-ka-Ra Hatshepsut

last update: 03.01.2012
  Royal Plume Dress  

A very interesting garment in the representation of the king during the 18. Dynasty is the plume dress. In its full execution it provides not only an extremely magnificent impression, but also lends to the owner an important symbolic meaning and connects him with the divine falcon and the divine vulture.
According to Giza-Podgórski (1984) the meaning of the royal plume dress has - however - not been sufficiently discussed although feather elements were frequently used in the iconography and as a decorative element. In his paper he referred on the few publications which mentioned the royal plume dress or discussed its meaning.

Most visitors will never notice in the scenes at temple or tomb walls a king which wears the plume dress (either the scene is not accessible, or they do not recognize that the dress is the plume dress since it was not fully executed, etc.).
The most impressive representations of the 18th Dynasty showing the king in the plume dress are:
- one on the southern external wall of the restored Alabaster shrine of Amenhotep I which is erected today in the Open Air Museum (OAM) at Karnak.
- two further representations are to be seen on upper terrace of the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari, on the right and left jamb of the granite portal which builds the entrance to main sanctuary of Amun.
- a further representation of a king wearing the plume dress is located in the ambulatory of the Small Temple of Amun at Medinet Habu, on the wall to the chapels.
All these representations were so far accessible or visible for visitors (for the two scenes on the granite portal of the temple at Deir el-Bahari, however, the use of binoculars is required).

Alabaster-Chapel of Amenhotep I, Open Air-Museum
The southern external wall of the Alabaster-Sanctuary of Amenhotep I shows in the scene far left Thutmosis I driving the 4 calves before the ithyphallic Amun. In this a well preserved scene Thutmosis I wears the plume dress (see below), only parts of the scene are lost (near the belt).

Thutmosis I wearing the royal plume dress (southern external wall of the Alabaster-Sanctuary of Amenhotep I).

The dress consists of an upper part (bodice), which covers 2/3 of the lower torso. This upper part is held only by a single shoulder strap which is fastened to the upper band of the bodice. The band is decorated with longwise and crosswise stripes and connected to the bodice with a nb-sign.

A band in the shape of an old-Egyptian adze forms the upper border of the bodice, a further adze-shaped band divides the bodice on the left breast side from top to bottom into two parts. The upper band is decorated with bars and circle-segments, the vertical band with semicircles.

The broad and round, V-shaped feathers of the bodice cover each other like scales.
The bodice extends right and left under the sloping (from right to left) belt off (see the following and next but one illustration) which itself is decorated with a zigzag ornament. In the middle part underneath the belt the figure is destroyed, so that no statement about the expansion of the upper section can be made.

The skirt (see photo above) consists of several layers of long small feathers which are cut straightly at their ends. Furthermore. one clearly recognizes two quarter-circles of feathers which fits below the belt snugly around the hips.

Details form the photo above which shows parts of the bodice extending right an left below the belt and the quarter-circles made of long small feathers fitting around the hips.

Under the quarter-circles the layer of long small feathers extends vertically nearly down to the knees - this layer is held together by a horizontal band.
A further, tail-shaped layer of long small tapering feathers appears below the quarter-circles and extends over the layer of long small feathers with the band down to the lower border of the kilt. In addition Thutmosis I wears naturally the royal bull's tail.
The following drawing taken from Giza-Podgórski (1984) shows Thutmosis I in the royal plume dress.

Thutmosis I wearing the royal plume dress (Alabaster-Sanctuary of Amenhotep I; drawing from: Giza-Podgórski, fig. 2).

In the following scene on the same wall which depicts Thutmosis I performing the ritual "Seizing the Oar" before the striding Amun. Here he wears a feather skirt (see the following photo) similar to that one in the scene described above, just the lower layer of feathers is missing.
However, the torso of the king is changed by discolorations in and damages to the stone so that it is not possible to make a statement about the bodice.

In comparison with the plume dress of the running king the feather dress of the striding Amun in this scene is completely different. The feather dress of the God consists completely of short, broad feathers (see photo below). Beyond that, in comparison with the plume dress of Thutmosis I (which he wears in the scene: "Driving the four calves") any partitioning of the dress is missing - with exception of a belt and an upper band.

Granit-Portal of the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari
The granite portal, which forms the entrance to the main sanctuary of Amun on the 3rd terrace, shows on both sides a figure of Hatshepsut (cartouches changed to Thutmosis III). In both representations the queen wears a similar dress, the representations differs only by the crowns (on the south side of the gate she wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt, on the north side the Red Crown of Lower Egypt).

  The queen wears a bodice with small V-shaped feathers. The upper part of the bodice ends with a volume which is held by two straps. The lower part of the bodice ends at an undecorated belt.

The arrangement of the skirt is less clear, however, it seems to consist of long feathers which extend right an left beyond knees. In addition, the queen wears an apron with a sporran and, naturally, the royal bull's tail.

Photo left: representation on the south side of the portal


Small Temple of Amun at Medinet Habu
The scene in the ambulatory of the Small Temple of Amun at Medinet Habu shows on the south side of the wall to the chapels Thutmosis III led by Atum and Month.

  The king wears a plume dress, which resembles in its components the representation of Thutmosis I on the Alabaster-chapel of Amenhotep I.

In some places the colors are well preserved and show green-blue feathers with red ends.

Derived Representations
Already during the reign of Hatshepsut there were representations of the king in the plume dress (e. g. on the Red Chapel) which can be recognized only by the outline as the royal plume dress but do not show any feathers. Possibly, these the feathers had not been worked out anymore in the relief but were painted only.

Block 172 from the external south side of the Red Chapel shows in the left scene Hatshepsut who is led by Amun (right) and Atum (left).

  Block 173 from the external western side of the Red Chapel shows Hatshepsut driving the four calves before the ithyphallic Amun.

  Above niche B of the western wall of the 3rd terrace at her temple in Deir el-Bahari Hatshepsut (cartouche changed to Thutmosis II) is represented driving the four calves before the ithyphallischen Amun.

According to Giza-Podgórski she wears here also a stylized royal plume dress.


Royal Plume or Falcon Dress
The overview presented here and numerous further examples listed by Giza-Podgórski suggest that plume dress and feather elements obviously had played  an important role in the royal iconography of the 18. Dynasty
Here the identification of the "King in the plume dress" with Horus appears obvious since this had been the most important legitimation of the royal power.
The plume or falcon dress (" Horus dress") consists completely of feathers and is divided into an upper and a lower part by a belt.
The upper part (bodice) consists of short, broad feathers and is held by one - occasionally also by two - shoulder straps. Frequently, the upper border is built by a band and it is vertically divided by a further band. Occasionally, both bands may have the form of an old-Egyptian adze.
The lower part (skirt) consists of long feathers and is also frequently divided by a horizontal band.
The dress completed by the royal bull's tail.
The distribution of the plume types resembles the distribution on the falcon body - the short broad feathers cover the (upper) body, the long small feathers correspond to those of the wings and the tail. A suitable comparison are the falcons which are sitting on the balustrades of the ramp to the 3rd terrace of the temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahari (see the following illustration).

Horus sitting on the southern balustrade of the ramp which leads to thr 3rd terrace. The falcon shows on the thorax short broad feathers, those of the wings and the tail are long and small.

According to Giza-Podgórski the falcon or Horus dress is exclusive worn by striding kings of the 18. Dynasty. With one exception - in the tomb of Amenhotep III. - all representations of the king in the plume dress appear on temple walls.

After the investigations of Giza-Podgórski the representation of the king in the plume or falcon dress appears in same frequency in scenes in which the king is led by Gods (in 12 of 34 scenes) or when driving the four calves (11/34), all other scenes are represented clearly in smaller frequency.
In 14 of 34 scenes the king wears the plume dress together with the Atef-crown, in 6 cases with the Jbs-headdress,  all other crowns appear with negligible frequency and/or could not be identified (8/34).



Copyright: Dr. Karl H. Leser (Iufaa)