King Men-Kau-Re and a Queen
Reign of Menkaure (c.2551-2523 BC, 4th Dynasty)
from Giza, Menkaure Valley Temple made from
Graywacke; H. 142.2 cm, w. 57.1 cm, d. 55.2 cm, Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition 11.17385.
- At twilight on January 10, 1910, a young boy beckoned George Reisner to the Menkaure Valley
Temple. There, emerging from a robbers' pit into which they had been discarded were the tops of two heads, perfectly
preserved and nearly life-size. This was the modern world's first glimpse of one of humankind's artistic masterworks,
the statue of Menkaure and queen.
- The two figures stand side-by-side, gazing into eternity. He represents the epitome of kingship
and the ideal human male form. She is the ideal female. He wears the Nemes on his head, a long artificial beard, and a
wraparound kilt with central tab, all of which identify him as king. In his hands he clasps what may be abbreviated
forms of the symbols of his office. His high cheekbones, bulbous nose, slight furrows running diagonally from his nose
to the corners of his mouth, and lower lip thrust out in a slight pout, may be seen on her as well, although her face
has a feminine fleshiness, which his lacks. Traces of red paint remain on his face and black paint on her wig.
Youthful vigour characterizes the figure of the king as he strides forward, protectively embraced by the queen. His head is turned slightly to the right, while the queen's face is fully frontal, as if she were presenting him to the world and endowing him with confidence and strength. While scholars may have gone too far in suggesting that this dominating female is a goddess, it is possible that we see not the king's consort but his mother. Such an image would have served as a potent guarantee of Menkaure's rebirth after death.
broad shoulders, taut torso, and muscular arms and legs, all modelled with subtlety and restraint, convey a latent
strength. In contrast, her narrow shoulders and slim body, whose contours are apparent under her tight-fitting sheath
dress, represent the Egyptian ideal of femininity. As is standard for sculptures of Egyptian men, his left foot is
advanced, although all his weight remains on the right foot. Typically, Egyptian females are shown with both feet
together, but here, the left foot is shown slightly forward. Although they stand together sharing a common base and back
slab, and she embraces him, they remain aloof and share no emotion, either with the viewer or with each other.
Who is represented here? The base of the statue, which is usually inscribed with the names and titles of the subjects
represented, was left unfinished and never received the final polish of most of the rest of the statue. Because it was
found in Menkaure's Valley Temple and because it resembles other statues from the same find-spot bearing his name, there
is no doubt that the male figure is King Menkaure. Reisner suggested that the woman was Queen Kamerernebty II, the only
one of Menkaure's queens known by name. She, however, had only a mastaba tomb, while two unidentified queens of Menkaure
had small pyramids. Others have suggested that she represents the goddess Hathor (see pp. 83-84), although she exhibits
no divine attributes. Because later kings are often shown with their mothers, still other scholars have suggested that
the woman by Menkaure's side may be his mother. However, in private sculpture when a man and woman are shown together
and their relationship is indicated, they are most often husband and wife. Because private sculpture is modelled after
royal examples, this suggests that she is indeed one of Menkaure's queens, but ultimately, the name of the woman
represented in this splendid sculpture may never be known.
Since the lower part has not been fully smoothed. Paint was applied, as seen in the traces of red on the king's ears, and sheet gold may once have covered the woman's wig and the king's headdress. The coverings would have incorporated a cobra above the king's forehead and, possibly, a vulture headdress above the queen's wig.
For the first time in Egyptian art, both royal heads are not images of idealized royalty but portraits of specific holders of the offices. The king's bulbous eyes, hanging flesh on the cheeks, and drooping lower lip are unmistakably features of an individual, as are the queen's long full neck and small mouth. While the king's body is ideally youthful and athletic, one might see hints of maturity in the woman's breasts.
Boston Museum of Fine Art.