Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

After spending an enjoyable, protracted time in the Cour Khorsabad and the Department of Eastern Antiquities at the Louvre, I ventured into the Department of Egyptian Antiquities. I wandered at leisure and stopped as a few of the priceless treasures caught my eye and listened to (and watched) my interactive audioguide explain the significance of each piece. I also took some photos (C’est merveilleux que le Louvre nous permet de prendre des photos.) In explaining a bit about the incredible artifacts I saw I, too, want to demonstrate their rich and lasting relevance to mankind by sharing some of the context and culture surrounding each piece.(Yes, this is an unabashed attempt to delve further into the art history of the Egyptian treasures, I confess!)

Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Statues of Sepa and Nesa
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 – 1710 BC), specifically the Thinite Period to the Old Kingdom

These statues, from the 3rd Dynasty (2700-2620BC), are three of the earliest known examples of monumental statuary of private rather than divine or royal individuals, although they are high-ranking members of the king’s entourage. The two on the right represent the same man, Sepa, and the woman is Nesa. Both assume traditional poses for their respective genders: Sepa, with his left leg forward, and Nesa, standing with her feet together. The wigs and linen clothes and green- and black-kohl-lined eyes demonstrate their social status as do Nesa’s bracelets and Sepa’s scepter. Their high social standing is confirmed by the inscriptions at their feet:  Sepa was close to the king, called the “Greatest of the ten of Upper Egypt,” and held powerful administrative posts and was “responsible for Royal Matters.” He also assumed religious responsibilities as “Priest of the god Kherty” and “Herdsman of the White Bull.” Nesa’s designation as “Royal Acquaintance” shows that she, too, was familiar to the king.

Although depicting life-size humans, these statues retain an older monolithic style (a single, massive, uniform whole), partly to symbolize strength and power and partly for practical reasons. To represent strength and solidity, the areas between the arms and body and between the legs were not hollowed out. To maintain the integrity of the limestone, the necks were kept short and the wigs were kept joined to the shoulders. Further, in Sepa, the cane and left arm are kept close to the body, instead of on the left side as would be seen in a normally-walking person. And, to stabilize the statues, extra weight was given to the legs which are oversized in relation to the rest of the body.

The transition from the Thinite Period to the Old Kingdom (which witnessed the emergence of monumental art) is indicated here by a number of factors: the figures’ stiff and massive appearance, the simple contours of the bodies (with a few linear details such as collarbones, shinbones, and shoulder blades), the thick lines of green kohl under the eyes, and the crowded hieroglyphs without clear rows or columns.

The function of effigies such as these was to perpetuate the earthly lives of the deceased so that they might benefit from the rites carried out on their behalf.


Dept. of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Stele of the Serpent King

From one of the earliest Egyptian dynasties dating from 3100BC, the time of the first pharaohs of Egypt. And, one of the foremost examples of monumental hieroglyphs ever discovered. The cobra is contained within a rectangular sign representing a building (probably the royal residence). The rectangle is topped by a falcon, sacred to the god Horus whom the pharaoh incarnated on earth. The inscription thus reads, “Horus Cobra,” naming the king as a successor to Horus. Originally over two meters (six feet) tall, it was found embedded inside the vault of one of the oldest Egyptian funerary monuments at the site of Abydos, where the kings of the 1st Dynasty were buried. The inscription of the king’s name stone was thought to help him obtain eternal life.



Dept. of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Stele: Princess Nefertiabet and Her Food

This is one of the most ancient and best preserved of all funerary steles depicting the deceased’s nourishment in the after-life.

Notice that the princess is facing right as is the inscription above her head. (The script says, “The king’s daughter, Nefertiabet.”)

She wears a leopard print dress which I think would be quite fashionable in some circles even today (although the actual killing of a leopard now for any reason is generally and rightly frowned upon). Her seat has bull’s feet and a papyrus umbelShe stretches one hand toward a white stone pedestal table on a terracotta stand, which bears slices of white bread with a golden crust.

And, that’s the whole picture, even though it doesn’t look like it to our eyes. The rest of the stele is covered in writing: in hieroglyphs explaining the delicacies which are available to the princess now that she is travelling the great beyond. The text is oriented in her direction because the words pertain to her. The large panel on the right shows all the fabrics she has at her disposal. A double rectangle above the table shows the inscription of items such as cosmetics, drinks, and various delicacies. (I wonder what brand of eyeliner she used? And, what does she like to drink now that she’s dead? Are her interests the same as when she was alive?) The rest of the ideograms flying around her face and near the table represent the “essential elements of the offering”: “libation” (in front of her face), “lustration” before her chest, “leg of beef”, “ribs”, “duck”, “linen”, “crockery”, “bread”, “beer”, “meat and poultry”, “thousand”, “thousand”, “thousand!”. Understanding the script explains the riches (and great eating!) given the Princess.


Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Head of a sphinx of King Djedefre
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 – 1710 BC)

Djedefre, son and successor of Cheops, is less well known than his father or his brother Khafre. He did not have his pyramid built on the famous Giza plateau as they did, but eight kilometers to the north at Abu Roash. 

This lifesize head may not be a realistic portrait, but its sculptor clearly intended to capture the features of his royal model: well-defined prominent cheekbones, almost straight eyebrows, small unmade-up eyes, wide mouth with clearly defined lips, receding chin – features found on every known portrait of this king. Djedefre wears a plain linen nemes – a royal headdress with a band around the forehead, covering the hair and worn behind the ears. The part of the headdress covering the nape of the neck is broken, but the nature of the break indicates that the head was once attached to the back of a recumbent lion.

This head once belonged to a statue of a sphinx. On the headband is a cobra with spread hood, ready to spit venom; this is the Uraeus, symbol of divine protection for the king.

Other sphinx statues (most of which were broken) were found at the same site: together with the head of Djedefre, they constitute one of the oldest known collections of this type of statuary.

Although this fragment bears no inscription, the context in which it was discovered enabled it to be clearly dated, and identified as Djedefre, son and successor of Cheops and brother of Khafre.


 Statue of Raherka (Inspector of Scribes) and of His Wife Meresankh

Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Reherka and Meresankh in Hieroglyphs. Raherka (Ra = the Sun god) and Meresankh (“she loves life”)

This beautiful pair-statue is carved from limestone (still bearing traces of its original colors) and is 52.8 centimetres (20.8 in) high. The husband and wife are carefully modeled with Raherka’s figure showing musculature. The pair-statue is painted in multiple colors. The husband is rendered in the traditional red skin color used for males, while his wife Meresankh is painted in a yellow toned skin color which was standard for that time. The wigs and eyeliners are painted black. Two hieroglyphic inscriptions on the base, facing each figure, indicate their names and titles. This group was originally placed in the chapel of the couple’s tomb, perhaps in the great Giza necropolis.

Meresankh holds her husband close, standing just behind him. They stand so close together that their wigs seem to intertwine, indicating their intimate relationship. The sculptor rendered Raherka’s musculature and Meresankh’s feminine form with subtle modeling. The contrasting colors of each figure contribute to the quality of this sculpture: the husband stands out in the foreground with his red flesh tones, creating a lovely distinctive harmony with the yellow ocher of his wife’s complexion (nicely suited to her gentle presence at his side). These were the conventional colors for men and women, just as black was generally used for wigs and eyeliner, white for linen clothing, and blue for precious jewelry. The back pillar which reinforces the monument stops at waist height, providing a support for Meresankh’s elbow.

Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

White Pillar Supporting Meresankh’s Elbow

The inscription on the flat of the base of this statue presents “the inspector of the scribes of the jackal” and “his wife, the King’s acquaintance.” Raherka therefore held high administrative responsiblities; his wife held no particular office, but had access to the royal palace.

Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Offering Bearer. Early Middle Kingdom. Painted wood

Standing with left foot forward, the female figure carries a basket with a leg of beef and a vessel of water. This model of a female offering-bearer comes from a tomb of the Early Middle Kingdom. The large sculpture, formed of several pieces of wood, is entirely covered in polychrome paint.

Stepping forward on a base painted in dark ocher, this female offering-bearer has a short wig on her head and wears a narrow, close-fitting dress decorated with feathers. Above the neckline is an usekh-collar. With one hand she steadies the basket carried on her head. The cut of beef rests on the lid. With the other, she holds out a large vessel of water.

This  funerary “model” impresses due to its size and the quality of the workmanship. She is also special in a contemporary sense. Because she was the only known model of her kind for decades, she became a reference object for artists, including Picasso, during his Cubist Period. His own drawings of the Louvre’s statuette are in the Musée Picasso in Paris. The use of twelve pieces of wood, as opposed to limestone, for example, allowed for a new depiction of movement and fluidity in the limbs.

Each part of the body is carefully carved: the long neck, the arm bent at a right-angle. The projecting, pointed breasts, too, are a very uncommon feature in Egyptian art. The muscles of the buttocks are almost angular in profile.

Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

Profile View of the Offering Bearer

Dept. of Egyptian Antiquities

The God Amun Protecting Tutankhamun, Diorite stone. 2.2 meters in height

This large statue, made of dark diorite, portrays Amun protecting Tutankhamun. The standing king, Amun’s chief officiate in the temple, is wearing a feline pelt and faces in the same direction as his divine protector. Amun wears the traditional headdress featuring two tall vertical feathers, as well as the braided bead of the gods.

Tutankhamun became famous when his previously undisturbed tomb was discovered in 1922. Yet he remains a mysterious sovereign, even for Egyptologists, as entire segments of his reign are still unknown. He was probably born in the capital of King Akhenaten in Middle Egypt, and became king when he was just over ten years old. He was under the control of the traditionalist clergy, who forced him to re-establish the predominance of Thebes and the cult of Amun. This statue is one of a series of monuments that confirmed the restoration of Amun as Egypt’s primary deity after the “Armarna revolution,” during which King Amenophis IV-Akhenaten chose to worship the god Aten.

Tutankhamen left several sculpted works, discovered in Thebes, which illustrate his devotion to the god Amun. The Louvre Museum has two large statues portraying a small likeness of the king under the protection of the triumphant god. Amun, seated on a cubic base, is represented in human form, wearing a pleated loincloth and corselet, divine beard and flat headdress topped with tall feathers, an evocation of his heavenly nature. Carefully detailed jewels – necklaces, armlets, and bracelets – decorate his neck and arms. The sovereign is wearing the vestments of the Amun priesthood, a starched loincloth and feline pelt over his left shoulder, along with sandals and a wide necklace. The king’s head is now missing, but the god’s soft and feminine features, in keeping with the portraiture style of this dynasty, reproduce the pharaoh’s face. The almond-shaped eyes, the slightly jutting chin and the full lips correspond exactly to the features of Tutankhamen’s face as represented in other works.

This monument suffered from the punishment inflicted on works produced during the el-Amarna period. Horemheb, a general who then became king, had reminders of this era destroyed: the head of the king, Akhenaten’s heir, was therefore broken off. All that remains are the two ends of the headdress on the shoulders. His names on the back pillar were struck out, while the divine names of Amun and Ra, included in the inscription, were saved; destroying them meant risking divine fury. The god’s hands that once clasped and protected the god were broken, as if to break the link that connected the two figures. Yet the vandal forgot to remove the cartouches on the trim suspended from the belt to the right of the loincloth; this sculpted scene identifies the figure as Tutankhamun.


Next time – and there will be a next time:

Four Baboons Adoring the Rising Sun

Great Sphinx of Tanis

Mummy in Painted Shroud

Guardian Lion at the Entrance to the Chapel at Serapeum at Saqqara

Mummy of a Man

Mummy Shroud and Mask

Processional Way of Sphinxes

Colossal Statue of Ramesses II



Head of a Sphinx of King Djedefre

Offering Bearer

Stele of Princess Nefertiabet and Her Food

Raherka and Meresankh


2 thoughts on “Department of Egyptian Antiquities, Louvre

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  2. Pingback: Leaving the Louvre |

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