‘I’m sorry, where is the mummy ??’
As a gallery attendant at the Musée du Louvre, it is probably the one sentence I have heard the most here, after, of course, ‘where is the Mona Lisa?’
Be they 7 or 77, and whichever country they come from, all visitors, or almost all of them, who venture into the Musée du Louvre want to see the ancient Egyptian department, and more precisely the only human mummy that is displayed there. Therefore, they look relentlessly for room 15, in which the mummy is displayed. The mummy at the Louvre, contrary to what our visitors hope for, is not that of a pharaoh. The visitors hoping to find the remains of Tutankhamun or Ramses II at the Louvre seem well disappointed, but others remain fascinated, and spend long minutes staring at the mummy, taking many pictures and selfies with it.
In reality, it is the mummy of a man, about 1.65 meter tall, who lived during the Ptolemaic period. We call him the mummy of Pacheri, although the reading of the name remains problematic. The quality of the embalming, as well as the state of conservation make it a noticeable mummy and worthy of notice. The mummy is a perfect example for anyone wanting to understand the technique of embalming, and that is probably why it attracts such fascination from visitors.
What adds to the charm of this mummy, is also its location in the museum. Indeed, located in a small niche at the back of the large sarcophagi room, at the top of the so-called Osiris crypt, the mummy is only visible in a certain dim light and remains well hidden, isolated from other artefacts, as if rest was a necessity for it in such a busy museum. Numerous tourists, therefore, unaware of its proximity, ask me where it is located. ‘ Salle quize, room fifteen, sala quice’ and I start again.
Some are probably still looking for it. When, after such a quest, they finally find it, I like to sit near them to listen to their comments. Often, they cry out: ‘it’s the mummy!!’ Numerous are those who ask me if it is a real mummy, to which I respond, with a smile, that none of the objects displayed at the Louvre are fakes. When they are in groups, there is always one of the visitors who looks at his friend, with pride: ‘I knew it, I told you so!!’. Discretely, I listen to their conversations and I hear some arguing ‘but where were you? I have been looking for you everywhere!! – I wanted to see the mummy at all cost, don't you???’ Some, greedy, hope to find more than one mummy, and to counter their disappointment it is an option to show them the animal mummies located a few rooms later. It is true that some time ago (a long time ago, to be honest), more mummies were displayed at the Louvre, but conservation measures and the remapping of the museological spaces have meant it is not possible anymore. It happens that individuals who have visited the Louvre at that time attempt to convince me that I am wrong, for they are very sure that there are more Pharaonic mummies at the Louvre, but there is no doubt: Pacheri is very much unique.
His conservation and display at the Musée du Louvre make him an uncontested star of the Egyptian collections in France.
Marie Schwartzmann, who graduated from the Ecole du Louvre and is now a Lecturer in History and Geography, worked as a gallery attendant at the Musée du Louvre for six years.