Ritual Figure of the 12th Dynasty

Ritual Figure

Ritual Figure, ca. 1929–1878 B.C.E.; Dynasty 12, reigns of Amenemhat II–Senwosret II; Middle Kingdom

Egyptian; Lisht

Plastered and painted cedar; H. 22 7/8 in. (55.5 cm)

Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1914 (14.3.17)


"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 Senwosret 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 color 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 modeling 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 a mud-brick enclosure wall surrounding the mastaba of Imhotep, a Twelfth Dynasty official who lived in about 1900 B.C. 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." - MET

Copyright © 2001 The Metropolitan Museum of Art - MET

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Bibliography on Ancient Art

The Art of Ancient Egypt, Revised by Robins, 272 Pages, Pub. 2008