Ancient Egyptian Statue

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Translation of the original document "Beurteilung der ägyptischen Statue einer Frau (Holz)" Prof. Dr. Steffen Wenig, Berlin

Review of an Egyptian statue of a woman (wood)

Mr NN, living in XX, is in possession of a wood statue with a height of 74 cm including the plinth. The original was presented to me at the end of 1998 in Rome. A set of 5 photographs with a format of 18 x 24 cm showing the statue from various perspectives, are in my possession to do a review as demanded by the owner The statue shows a standing woman wearing a long, tight fitting dress reaching down to the middle of her calves. The feet are put tightly side by side and there is no suggestion of a step. The head is covered with a heavy wig, flowing down on the shoulders and the trunk, twining round the face and covering the ears. The obviously separately made left arm* is hanging down the body, the flatly extended hand being abreast the ledge in front of the body. The right arm seems to be made separately as well.** The upper arm is slightly directed towards the front, away from the body. The forearm is bended and is lying at an angle in front of the trunk, pointing. towards the left shoulder, Here as well, the hand is flatly extended. The navel is a perfectly circular hollow. The nipples are accentuated. Jewellery is not visible. The plinth has got vertical, rectangular holes at every of its four corners which points to the fact that the statue was set in an underground. The strict frontage of the statue as well as the iconographic elements dress and wig, prove that this work has to be assigned to the old Egyptian culture. To be judged are authenticity, date of origin, context and subject.

Regarding the authenticity

At the examination of the statue, I found no indication that it could be an imitation or a forgery. All details such as iconography or surface modulation correspond to the old Egyptian arts canon. Even though forgeries of wood statues of this sort are well known, I would like to exclude it to a large extent for the statue in question. According to my opinion, important points that prove the authenticity of the statue are two elements:

  • The holes at the corners of the plinth, it's very unlikely that a forger would have made these.
  • The "unconventional" posture of the hand which is in fact verified in the Egyptian art but by no means typical for it.

Regarding the date of origin

  1. Three arguments make me certain that this statue has to be dated in between the 1st interim period of the Middle Empire:*** In the Egyptian art, wood statues of this height are mainly found in this period of time.
  2. Furthermore, the stressed, slim proportions of the statue which are Typical for the Egyptian development of art in the mentioned period, underline the proposed date classification.
  3. Since the late Old Empire until the Early New Empire the style of the wig is proved in many ways, It is probably possible to find out exactly to which period of time the statue belongs. In this case an exact date cannot be named as would be necessary to do a profound study and to compare it with further material.

Regarding the context

The holes in the corners of the plinth could be an indication for the original context. It seems as if the statue together with its plinth was set in a ground plate with a hollow. It can therefore not be excluded that this work is part of a whole group of figures everk though I do not have comparable examples on hand at the moment. It is also possible that the statue was set as a single work in an anchorage. To give a final answer to this question, detailed studies would be necessary.

Regarding the subject

The posture of the woman is remarkable which is very rare in Egyptian art for standing figures. Anyway we find it for example on the gravestone of Amenenes of Theben (Cairo) in the form of maid.**** The wood statue of the Inemachet from the 12th Dynasty of Abusir (Berlin) itself, with its Height of 18 cm, found in a coffin, has got the "left" placed in a comparable way in front of the trunk. According to W. Wolf*****, this posture of the hand is very "special"

Summarising the above, there are different possibilities of interpretation.
1. The statue belongs to a group of (exceptionally big) servant figures as it is known for the above mentioned period of time.
2. It is a grave statue. Finally I would like to recommend to do an examination of the wood.


*A further autopsy would be necessary
**See above note
'***The expertise of the Dipartimento di Izisica of the university "La Sapienza", Rome, attched by the owner and signed by Prof S. Improta, mentions a date of origin in between 1609 1514 B C. with a probability of 68%. To my opinio this period seems to be too late due to stylistical reasons.
**** Wolf, the Art of Egypt, Stuttgart 1957, pict, 336, p. 339
***** The Art of Egypt, Stuttgart 1957, p.348


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