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ritual figure
Ritual Figure
c.1929–1878 BC, 12th Dynasty, reign of Amenemhat II and Senusret II from Lisht. It is constructed from 16 pieces of Cedar and sycamore wood, gessoed and painted kilt and crown and painted body.


This figure wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and a divine kilt. The face is thought to reflect the features of the reigning king, either Amenemhat II or Senusret II, but the combination of royal and divine attributes suggests that the statuette was not merely a representation of the living ruler. The surfaces of the crown and kilt were built up with a layer of plaster before paint was applied. Traces of red, the traditional skin colour of male figures, can be seen on the exposed flesh. The contours of the legs, the details of the hands and feet, and the delicate modelling of the face set this sculpture apart as one of the masterpieces of ancient Egyptian art.

The statuette was discovered in 1914 at the royal cemetery of Lisht during the Museum's excavation of the southern mud-brick enclosure wall surrounding the mastaba of Imhotep, a 12th Dynasty official who lived in about 1900 BC. The deposit included a second, almost identical figure wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt, which is now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The two figures were probably used as part of a dramatic funerary ceremony and then ritually buried.

In spite of its small size, the statue has great presence. In Egyptian art, the essential purpose of any formal representation of a man (whether god, king, or lesser mortal) was to embody the essence of masculine strength and virility. The restrained power expressed in the elegantly simple pose of this striding figure admirably achieves this goal, and it is easy to understand why Egyptian artists continued to use many of the same uniquely expressive forms for nearly thirty centuries.



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