Inspired by ancient Egypt
The Pen of the Year 2023 is inspired by ancient Egypt, its 3,000-year-old history, its gods and goddesses, its mythology and its achievements. The people called their home Kemet (meaning “Black Land”) because it was often flooded by the dark silt of the Nile, which fertilised the earth. This annual cycle is said to have led to the creation of the calendar system consisting of roughly 365 days. The black colour and decorative elements of the Pen of the Year 2023 are testaments to the origins of the Kingdom of Egypt, the pharaohs, their hieroglyphs and symbols.
Dive deeper into the story behind our new Pen of the Year
Creations by Ptah
In around 4000 BC, an advanced civilisation emerged in Egypt and rose to become a great empire on the Nile. According to mythology, Ptah was considered a creator god and “father of the gods from whom all life and the creative power of people originated”. His heart and tongue are his creative organs. As “the creator”, Ptah brought living creatures, cities and temples into being by saying the thoughts formed in his heart out loud. Ptah also created other gods and goddesses in this manner. Their stories have survived for thousands of years in the form of a unique writing system: hieroglyphs.
“Description is useless, must be seen. Words cannot portray the impression left by this work of art,” noted Ludwig Borchardt when he discovered the bust of Nefertiti, one of the most iconic ancient Egyptian artworks, in 1912. The delicate bust of Nefertiti, whose name can be translated as “The Beautiful Woman has Come”, was crafted in around 1340 BC. The cap of the Pen of the Year 2023 is modelled on the striking shape of the blue crown (altiyjan) that the bust of Nefertiti is so famous for. Headdresses were significant in ancient Egypt. In addition to the blue khepresh, the pharaohs’ war crown, there was the red deshret, the Crown of Lower Egypt; the white hedjet, the Crown of Upper Egypt; and the Atef crown, a combination of the deshret and hedjet. Nefertiti’s tall cap-crown shape was rare. It is a symbol of Nefertiti’s position of power, which was at least equal to, if not higher than, her husband Akhenaten.
God of the afterlife
Myth of Osiris
Osiris, god of the afterlife, wears a crown decorated with ostrich feathers. It is he who decides whether the deceased will be reborn. In the myth, his jealous brother Set murders him and dismembers his body. Osiris’ mourning sister and wife Isis pieces his body back together with the help of Anubis, god of funerary rites and mummification. And this way Osiris becomes the first mummy.
The lotus flower (seshen), which represented regeneration and rebirth in ancient Egypt, provided the inspiration for the delicately engraved pattern on the end piece of the Pen of the Year 2023. The blue lotus – whose petals close up every day and sink into the water as the sun goes down, only to rise up once again as the sun comes back up – was highly revered in the ancient world. As one of the most significant symbols, the delicate plant graced alabaster vessels, jewellery, paintings and columns, and was used as a hieroglyph, often in connection with the gods.
Magic, rebirth and regeneration
Power of Isis
In ancient Egypt, gold (nebu) was the symbol of power and wealth, and only the pharaohs were allowed to adorn themselves with it. Impressive pieces of jewellery, tools, vessels and masks made of gold are a testament to ancient Egypt as the most opulent land of gold in the ancient world. The peak of the Golden Age came under Akhenaten and Tutankhamun in around 1300 BC. Gold was also an emblem of the gods. Horus, often depicted as a falcon, was considered to be one of the most important gods. His famous Eye of Horus was found on amulets, coffins and funerary objects as a protective symbol. The mathematical proportions of the eye were also used for dosing ingredients when making medicine. Engraved in a 24-carat-gold-plated metal plate, the end piece of the Pen of the Year 2023 is also decorated with the Eye of Horus.
Eighty years battling
Eye of Horus
According to the myth “The Contendings of Horus and Seth”, the two rivals spend eighty years battling for Osiris’ throne. Because the gods favour Horus in the fight, Seth, brother of Osiris, flies into a rage and tears out Horus’ left eye. Horus regains his sight with the help of Thoth, god of science and writing. From then on, the left Eye of Horus, known as the eye of the moon, is seen as a symbol for healing, protection, perfection and power. After the long ordeal, Seth resorts to unfair means, which causes Horus to turn to Neith, the goddess of war. She counsels the gods, whereupon Osiris ultimately exercises his authority and pronounces his son Horus the “Lord of the Two Lands”.
Ornate hieroglyphs (medu neter) adorn the metal barrel of the Pen of the Year 2023: The names of twelve ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses are engraved in the diamond-like carbon coating on the metal. Hieroglyphs are considered to be the oldest form of Egyptian writing, with around 7,000 of them having been passed down to us. For more than 3,500 years, hieroglyphs were mainly used for rituals or religious purposes, but also to pass down knowledge from generation to generation. This writing system was the key to ancient Egypt evolving into an advanced civilisation and them being able to govern their territory. We are only able to decipher the detailed symbols today thanks to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 – the impressive slab is inscribed in three different languages.
God of writing, mathematics and words
Writing of Thoth
As the god of writing, mathematics and words, Thoth brought language and writing to the people. With his long, crooked ibis beak, he watches over archives and libraries containing knowledge of ancient Egypt. Thoth is also one of the gods involved in the judgement of the dead – he records the weighing of the heart. Only those who were heavily remorseful with a light heart would reach the realm of rebirth.
The inlaid, reconstructed blue lapis lazuli engraved with a scarab (cheperer) shines bright in the end piece of the Pen of the Year 2023’s cap. The beetle was sacred in ancient Egypt and was seen as a lucky symbol on amulets, seals and coffins as well as a symbol of the sun that represented life and rebirth. Whenever the Nile rose above its banks, the beetles would move away from the water and represent an early signal to the people of the eagerly anticipated flood. The deep blue of the lapis lazuli was a new colour back then that became associated with water and the divinity of the night sky. It was used for lavish jewellery pieces, the pharaohs’ clothing and relics. The royal blue in the mask of Tutankhamun is striking, as is the blue make-up of Cleopatra, who saw herself as the embodiment of the goddess Isis.
Re creates humanity
Voyage of Re
Re, god of the sun, makes life on Earth possible. The scarab rolling its ball in front of itself symbolises the sun. Once Re creates humanity, he rises up and spends day after day sailing across the sky on a solar barque. In an eternal cycle, Re crosses the realm of the dead at night accompanied by Set, who defends against the attacks from the Great Serpent Apophis, god of darkness, chaos and dissolution – to rise again the next day as the sun goes up.
The mask of Tutankhamun, one of the most famous and impressive finds from ancient Egypt, weighs a massive 12 kilos. The grip of the Pen of the Year 2023 is inspired by the stripes of gold and lapis lazuli as seen on the pharaoh's (per-aa) nemes head cloth. 24-carat-gold-plated metal rings and blue rings meticulously hand-painted with several coats call to mind the valuable headdress reserved solely for the pharaohs. Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, which was lined with pure gold, was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. It contained many artefacts, including his gold throne and a chariot. As an important part of the Egyptian belief system, embalming and mummifying the body was part of the ceremony to enter the afterlife.
God of funerary rites and mummification
Mummification by Anubis
Anubis, god of funerary rites and mummification who is depicted with the head of a jackal, performs his first death ritual on the deceased Osiris. This then becomes the model for burial ceremonies. He is the guardian of the dead who goes on the journey to the afterlife, receiving the mummies, opening their mouths and sending their souls on their way to the “Field of Offerings” in the East. During the journey, his hand rests protectively over the mummy.
End by Sekhmet
Since the people do not worship the gods enough and revolt against them, Re sends the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, meaning “the Mighty”, to Earth to kill them. Whipped up into a frenzy, Sekhmet kills more and more people until the land turns red from the blood. Re relents, sending her into a deep sleep in an elaborate ploy. Sekhmet’s thirst for blood is henceforth quenched. Re separates Heaven and Earth and sends the gods and goddesses back to the stars, thus ending the era of the gods and goddesses on Earth.