• Egypt, Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty (c. 2000 BC)
  • Polychrome ebony
  • Inv. 142

Funerary statue

This male figure made of painted ebony was found in the Deir el-Bahri region in Eastern Thebes. The figure is wearing a simple kilt made of canvas covered with plaster. His short, black round-cut hair is indicated by small curls incised into the wood, and his earlobes are visible, although his once inset eyes have been lost. His left leg is thrust forward, his right arms is hanging down and his left is folded, and he has lost the insignia that he once held in his hands: a staff and a sceptre to symbolise his authority.

The pose, representing the ka or vital force of the deceased, obeys one of the most important rules of Egyptian art, the ‘law of frontality’. The figure stands upright on his axis, in perfect symmetry and looking ahead. Another famous canon that also appears is the brown paint that was typically used for male figures.

Statuettes depicting the ka of the deceased were placed in the funerary shrines of tombs inside a closed chamber called the serdab, from where the ka could ‘see’ anyone who entered the shrine through slits or holes in the wall. The ka was a sort of double of the deceased: a vital and sexual force that took the same form as the body but had the property of being invisible, since it was a spiritual and psychic creation.

Paul Mallon Collection. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian from the Paul Mallon Collection, Paris, 31 January 1920.

Araújo 2006

Luís Manuel de Araújo, Egyptian Art. Calouste Gulbenkian Collection. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2006, pp. 63–5, cat. 3.

Updated on 22 april 2022

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