Fifth Dynasty, reign of Userkaf
H. 75 cm (29 5/8 in.)
Egyptian Museum, Cairo
This imposing head of Userkaf, first king of the Fifth Dynasty, was discovered by Cecil Firth in 1928 in the sovereign’s funerary complex. Userkaf chose to be buried at Saqqara, not far from the Step Pyramid of the illustrious Djoser. King Shepseskaf of the previous dynasty had already abandoned the plateau of Giza for South Saqqara, where he built a strange tomb in the form of a monumental mastaba, Mastabat Faraoun. This head was found in the court of Userkaf’s pyramid temple, which, contrary to the usual practice, was attached to the south and not the east face of the pyramid. Many fragments of small statues of Userkaf in diorite and granite, bearing the king’s cartouche and Horus name, come from the same site. They are the only remnants of an elaborate program of statuary that decorated this temple, which is today in ruins.
This is the head of one of the few colossal statues from the Old Kingdom. It is the largest, the most beautiful, and the oldest of Fifth Dynasty royal statues. All the others are small, including the extraordinary series recently discovered at Abusir in the funerary complex of King Neferefre. The face of the king, set off by the nemes headcloth, is striking in its simplicity and stylization: these qualities can be explained by the dimensions of the work, which is monumental and sculpted to be seen from a distance. If we assume the king was seated, like the figures of Khafre from Giza, the total height of the statue exceeded four meters (thirteen feet) and thus prefigures works from later periods in Egyptian history, in particular, New Kingdom colossi. It has been suggested that the fragment was part of a sphinx, but the back of the statue’s neck, which would identify it as a sphinx, is poorly preserved, and the arguments advanced are therefore not very convincing.1 Its dimensions are unique for Old Kingdom statuary, but our knowledge is dependent on random excavations and the state of preservation. Apart from the “caryatids” in Djoser’s funerary complex at Saqqara,2 only a few statues at royal complexes were much larger than lifesize. These include a representation of Djoser, of which the pedestal and a few fragments have survived;3 the engaged statues of Snefru in Dahshur;4 and an alabaster colossus depicting Menkaure.5
Despite a dearth of precedents, the sculptor of Userkaf’s head was able to render an expressive face, treated with sensitivity, in granite, a very hard stone. The eyes and eyebrows jut out, the nose is strong, the ears protrude, the chin and jaw are broad: all these elements contribute to a severe expression. There is no detail on the nemes headcloth; the uraeus barely stands out from the king’s forehead. This representation of the sovereign perpetuates the refined style established by statues of Menkaure, with which it shares certain characteristics. S L – T, C Z
- Kozloff 1982, pp. 211-23.
- Adam and Ziegler 1999, p. 58.
- Egyptian Museum, Cairo, JE 49889, pedestal; see ibid., p. 24.
- Stadelmann 1995b, pp. 164-65, pl. 60.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 09.204, h. 235 cm (92 1/2 in.); see Vandier 1958, pp. 21-22, 25-26, pl. 4.4; Adam and Ziegler 1999, p. 159.
Provenance: Saqqara, pyramid temple of Userkaf, southwest corner of court, Firth excavation for Egyptian Antiquities Service, 1928-29
Bibliography: Firth 1929, p. 65, pl. 1; Smith 1946, p. 46, pl. 17a; Lange and Hirmer 1957, pls. 50, 51; Vandier 1958, pp. 14, 29-30, pl. 7.6; Edwards 1961, pl. 22; Michalowski 1968, fig. 214; Donadoni 1969, ill. on p. 37; Porter and Moss 1978, pp. 397-98; Kozloff 1982, pp. 211-23; Saleh and Sourouzian 1987, no. 35 (for comparison); Lauer 1988, pp. 82, 83; Aldred 1992, p. 118; Lehner 1997, p. 140; Adam and Ziegler 1999, p. 71
Mid-Fifth Dynasty, perhaps reign of Neferefre
Hard yellow limestone with remains of paint
H. 8 cm (3 1/8 in.); w., face, 5.8 cm (2 1/4 in.)
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London UC 14282
This small royal head is about one-third lifesize. It was uncovered beneath the pavement of a Twelfth Dynasty temple during excavations conducted by W. M. F. Petrie at Coptos. Part of a small throne cut from the same hard yellow limestone was discovered in the vicinity of the head, and it is probable that both fragments were part of a seated statue of an unknown king.1
The king has a tightly fitting wig, or skullcap, worn very low across his forehead and incised with concentric rings that may indicate hair. a damaged uraeus is visible at the center of his brow. His chin is missing, but the end of a chin strap in black paint is visible in front of the right ear, indicating that he wore a false beard. The ears are naturally placed in relation to the features, and the right ear is well preserved. The left ear has been described as unfinished, but in fact it appears to have been chipped away almost entirely, and below it something else has also been consciously chipped away at an angle behind the jawbone.
The surface of the face, especially the right side around the eye and across the cheek, has been badly abraded, obscuring much of the detail. The surface of the left side is in better condition, although a large piece of the cheek is missing. Details around the left eye suggest the beginning of a cosmetic line. The eyes themselves are large and wide open. The eyeballs have been modeled and the eye sockets are deeply hollowed out along the edge of the nose, creating dark shadows below the brows. The brows have been indicated in low relief. The nose is well formed, but the nostrils have been indented only slightly.
The head has been dated to the Fourth Dynasty based on comparisons with statues of kings Khafre and Menkaure;2 however, the face is not as full or as broad as that of Khafre in the gneiss statue of him in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (fig. 28), and the browridge and nose are not as pronounced as they are in representations of Menkaure.3 This head in the Petrie Museum, London, does have features in common with the small head of an unknown king in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels (E 7117).4 Although the eyes of the London head are much larger, the faces are similarly shaped, and both subjects wear the same short wig or skullcap incised with concentric circles and resting low on the forehead.
Both the London and the Brussels heads have been dated to the Fourth Dynasty, but closer parallels for both works can be found in the Fifth Dynasty, especially among the royal statuary uncovered in the 1980s at Abusir.5 Of special interest are two fragmentary limestone statuettes of Neferefre in which the king is depicted wearing a wig dressed in concentric rows of textured locks.6 The comparison is particularly interesting for the present head because the Neferefre statuettes are both protected by the Horus falcon. On the better preserved of the two, the bird hugs the back of the king’s wig. Its beak is well below the crown of the king’s head, and its wing tips end just behind the back edge of his jawbones. Considering the broken areas on the Petrie Museum head, it is at least possible that a similar falcon protected this king.
Two other statues in the Neferefre group also provide interesting comparisons for this head: one a statue of the standing king wearing the white crown, the other a seated statue in which he wears the nemes head-cloth.7 In both, the headdresses are worn low on the forehead and the ears roughly resemble in size and shape those of the Petrie Museum head; moreover, the eyes of the seated king are large and wide open like those of this king. Although it might be unwise to identify the London head as Neferefre, on the basis of similarities with the Abusir group, it seems safe to date it to the middle of the Fifth Dynasty, when Neferefre ruled. It seems likely that the Brussels head belongs to this period as well. CHR
- Petrie 1896, p. 11; Murray 1930, pp. 8, 10; Page 1976, p. 4.
- Murray 1930, pp. 8-10; Page 1976, pp. 4-5.
- Compare profile views of the present head and the head of Menkaure in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (cat. no. 70). For a profile view of the present head, see Petrie 1896, pl. 5 | 9 |; and Murray 1930, fig. 4.
- As is pointed out in Page 1976, p. 5. The Brussels head is published in Capart 1927, pp. 7-8, pl. 5.
- Verner 1985a, pp. 267-80, pls. 44-59; Verner 1994a, pp. 143-50.
- Verner 1985a, pls. 44-47.
- Ibid., pls. 49-53.
Provenance: Coptos, Petrie excavation, December 3, 1893-February 26, 1894
Bibliography: Petrie 1896, pl. 5 ; Murray 1930, pp. 8-10, figs. 1, 4; Page 1976, pp. 4-5
H. 14.5 cm (5 3/4 in.)
Egyptian Museum, Cairo TEMP 6-9-32-1
This little fragment from Userkaf’s ruined mortuary complex was part of a large scene depicting life in a marsh along the Nile. It is not unusual to find hunting and fishing scenes or simple depictions of nature in the reliefs within Fifth Dynasty royal temples. Such reliefs reflect a long tradition, attested by a few fragments from the temple of the Bent Pyramid, built by Snefru in Dahshur (cat. no. 2.2). The traces of green paint on the papyrus stalks behind these birds are a reminder that all such scenes were painted in bright colors. The finely sculpted relief in soft limestone shows the technical skill and gifts of observation possessed by early Fifth Dynasty artists. In particular, note how the plumage on the birds’ wings and heads gives a lifelike appearance to the charming scene as it unfolds before our eyes. SL-T,CZ
Provenance: Saqqara, precinct of Userkaf
Bibliography: Firth 1929, p. 66; Wreszinski 1936, pl. 105 [B]; 5000 ans 1960, p. 22, fig. 11; Gilbert 1960, pp. 153-55, 38; Lauer 1976, pl. 119; Porter and Moss 1978, p. 398; Smith 1981, p. 127; Saleh and Sourouzian 1987, no. 36 (for comparison with another marsh scene from the same temple, in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, JE 56001)
103. Cast of a Block with Running Troops and an Inscription with the Names and Titles of King Userkaf
H. 91 cm (35 7/8 in.); w. 146 cm (57 1/2 in.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York N.A. 1999.2
Four Old Kingdom pharaohs are named on stone blocks that were found early in this century and reused in the Middle Kingdom pyramid of Amenemhat I at Lisht: Khufu, Khafre, Unis, and Pepi II.1 During the 1991 excavation season at Lisht, the Egyptian Expedition of The Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered a large block with names of Userkaf, first king of the Fifth Dynasty; it is a cast of this object that is exhibited here. Middle Kingdom builders had removed the block from a temple erected by Userkaf at Saqqara and used it to fill a deep trench dug while they were constructing the burial chambers below Amenemhat’s pyramid. The block was placed upside down on the west side of the trench (fig. 123). The carved figures had been systematically defaced in order to deprive them of their magical efficacy, and the block employed simply as building material.2
The relief work is generally of good quality, but the incomplete state of a few of the hieroglyphs indicates that the decoration was left unfinished. Particularly noticeable is the imperfect palace facade below the king’s Horus name, where details were added only at the far right.
The carving on the preserved part of the block is oriented in two directions, marking a transition between scenes. The right third is filled with the ends of three registers of running troops who face toward the right, while the left two-thirds are covered with inscriptions, which for the most part read from left to right. Running soldiers often accompany ships, and the inscription at the far left mentions a ship, revealing that the presumably related scenes had nautical subject matter.
The troops are clad either in aprons with three lengths of cloth hanging down in front, or kilts. Simple staves are carried by six of the soldiers, and four or five hold long bundles with bows protruding from their tops. One man in the central register supports a bundle of sticks with his right hand, while two figures in the bottom row carry weapons wrapped in tied sacks.3 Two men appear to be empty-handed. The lowest register has fewer troops than the upper two, and there is a relatively large empty space behind the last figure, perhaps indicating that the complete scene contained a numerically faithful representation of different units of troops, rather than a tightly knit arrangement of human figures dictated by aesthetic concerns alone.
Dominating the center of the block is a large vertical rectangle enclosing the names, titles, and epithets of Userkaf and three deities who protect him. At the top is an image of the flying Horus falcon, with an identifying line of text above. In reliefs such as this, flying falcons generally hover near the top of a wall and above a depiction of the king, who was believed to receive protection from Horus’s outstretched wings. At the bottom left and right sides of the rectangle, respectively, are images of the cobra goddess Wadjet and the vulture goddess Nekhbet; their names and epithets are inscribed above them. In the center of the rectangle are two of Userkaf’s five names, as well as epithets relating to the king. Beneath the panel is a horizontal line of text that states, “She is giving life, stability, dominion, all joy and health forever.” The recipient of this commonly used blessing is the king himself, and the bestower is probably Wadjet, who is shown directly above the beginning of the text.
At the far left of the block are two partial columns of inscription that include the names of two feline goddesses. The left column preserves part of the name of a goddess who is probably Bastet,4 followed by the name of the goddess Shesmetet.5 The right column identifies the now-lost scene that filled the wall below and/or to the left as “Returning from (?) the temple of Bastet in the ship (called) ‘He Who Controls the Subjects.'”6 The owner of the ship is the king himself, who was presumably depicted on board the vessel and below the flying Horus falcon.
This relief presents a juxtaposition of figures and an unusual text that provides tantalizing clues to the missing decoration of the entire wall. AO.
- Goedicke 1971, pp. 8-28.
- Although Goedicke (ibid., pp. 5-7) argued that Amenemhat I reused decorated Old Kingdom blocks in the structures of his pyramid complex because of their magical properties, several observations suggest otherwise. Many of the animal and human figures carved on the blocks, including the running troops, appear to have been deliberately mutilated, suggesting that a conscious attempt was made to deprive them of their spiritual power. Decorated blocks were randomly laid in the pyramid structure, and some were even placed upside down. Finally, it is difficult to accept Goedicke’s suggestion that Amenemhat I intended to honor his predecessors by reusing elements of their constructions in his own buildings—for Amenemhat’s builders were in reality contributing to the decay and destruction of Old Kingdom monuments.
- For a similar sack, see Fischer 1979, p. 8, fig. 3.
- The two deities are related; see Schmitz 1984, cols. 587-90.
- The name of this goddess was found among the fragments excavated in the Userkaf pyramid temple. An unpublished drawing of the fragment by William Stevenson Smith is in the archives of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I wish to express my appreciation to Rita E. Freed and Peter Der Manuelian for allowing me access to this material. The goddess also appears in the pyramid temple of King Niuserre at Abusir (Borchardt 1907, p. 94).
- I would like to thank James P. Allen for his advice about the inscription. The closest parallel to the name of the ship comes from the mastaba of Mer-ib (G 2100-I-annex) at Giza, where the tomb owner is referred to as the god’s treasurer on the “ship of the Lord of the Subjects.” See Jones 1988, p. 106, no. 243, p. 235, no. 23, with earlier bibliography; and Porter and Moss 1974, pp. 71-72. For the identification of the “Lord of the Subjects” with the king, see Kaplony 1980, col. 418.
Provenance: Original, Lisht North, pyramid of Amenemhat I, Metropolitan Museum of Art excavation, 1991
Bibliography: D. Arnold in Leclant and Clerc 1993, p. 212, fig. 24
Limestone with faint remains of paint
H. 85 cm (33 1/2 in.); w. 127 cm (50 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1915 15.3.1163
The 1991 discovery at Lisht of a reused block decorated with running soldiers and inscribed with names of King Userkaf (fig. 123; cat. no. 103) has allowed the assignment of this relief with running troops to the same king’s reign. Both works are executed in delicate low relief. The compositions are extremely similar, and the size and spacing of the figures are nearly identical. This reused piece was found in 1914 by the Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian Expedition in the same general area as the block inscribed with Userkaf’s name.1
At first glance the scene seems to consist of two somewhat monotonous registers of closely spaced, repetitively posed soldiers who run to the viewer’s left. However, closer inspection reveals that the composition is actually quite varied, complex, and full of closely observed detail. Although the soldiers’ limbs are similarly positioned, subtle variations in the poses are found throughout the work. Particularly intriguing is the intricate overlapping of the figures, which does not follow a discernible pattern and in places defies logical spatial arrangement.2 Although the fine workmanship has been somewhat obscured by erosion and ancient vandalism, subtle modeling is still evident on the legs and abdomens of many of the figures, and traces remain of rimmed upper eyelids and eyebrows raised slightly above the surface of the faces.
The troops are organized in two groups of ten, behind each of which a kilted figure runs. A short inscription precedes and follows each group and serves to identify the units or their individual commanders.3 The men wear either aprons or kilts and grasp the same kinds of weapons and implements as the soldiers on the block inscribed in the name of Userkaf—with the exception of the sixth man from the right in the upper register, who carries the tools of a scribe, and the fifth man from the right on the lower register, who holds a stick with a semicircular disk.
The upper edge of the present block retains bits of the vertically oriented, zigzagging lines traditionally used to represent water, indicating that the running troops belonged to a nautical scene. Beneath the lower register is a horizontal band with five-pointed stars, which symbolize the sky and mark the transition to the scene below. For unknown reasons, the left side of the band and, immediately above it, the ground line under the soldiers’ feet were left unfinished, as were elements of the inscription on the block with Userkaf’s name.
The left side of the relief slopes inward from top to bottom, indicating that it was placed at the left end of a wall in an inside corner and that it adjoined a wall with a distinct batter. In Egyptian architecture batters are customarily found on exterior walls, and they are used as well on interior walls that mark the connection between adjoining buildings. In pyramid complexes battered interior walls occur where the valley temple joins the causeway and where the causeway joins the pyramid temple. Thus, the sloping side of this block must belong to one of the few areas of architectural transition in the Userkaf pyramid complex.4
A block with a sloping left edge that depicts running troops accompanying a ship was found at Abusir by Ludwig Borchardt in the valley temple of Sahure, Userkaf’s immediate successor. Borchardt’s reconstruction places the block on the north wall of the innermost room of the valley temple, an area that marks the transition into the causeway.5 Unfortunately, nothing is yet known about the valley temple of Userkaf. The upper temples of the complex have been excavated, but final reports on the architecture and the relief decoration have not been published6. Relief fragments that belong to a scene depicting rowers and running soldiers were found in the southeast part of Userkaf’s main temple,7 so it is possible that this block came from a transitional area at the temple entrance.
The numerous parallels between this block and the one with Userkaf’s name make it likely that the two belonged to the same wall; the Userkaf relief would have been higher up and to the right of the present corner block. In the latter block, the troops ran in registers beneath the king’s ship, while the soldiers on the Userkaf relief ran in the opposite direction and belonged to a different scene. Since the inscription on the Userkaf relief indicates that the ship is returning from the temple of Bastet, which was located in the Delta and to the north of Userkaf’s pyramid complex in Saqqara, the scene was probably placed on the north wall of whichever temple it once graced. AO
- During the New Kingdom, blocks removed from the same wall of an older building were sometimes placed close together in a new structure; see Romano 1979, pp. 106-7.
- For a discussion of overlapping figures in Egyptian art, see Schäfer 1986, pp. 177-89. It should be noted that the troops probably ran in short rows of three or four across rather than in single file. For three-dimensional representations of marching soldiers dating from the early Middle Kingdom, see Saleh and Sourouzian 1987, nos. 72, 73.
- For a detailed discussion of the inscriptions, see Goedicke 1971, pp. 68-74.
- Similar scenes with ships and running men are found in Old Kingdom nonroyal tombs, where they are often placed at the entrance. Their iconography and location within the tomb are probably copied from prototypes in royal temples; see Harpur 1987, pp. 56-57.
- See Borchardt 1913, pp. 21-22., fig. 4.
- Information about the architecture has been collected and summarized in Maragioglio and Rinaldi 1970, pp. 10-43. See also Porter and Moss 1978, pp. 397-98. None of the available sources addresses the question of battered walls. However, it must be noted that intrusive Saite Period tombs damaged much of the Userkaf complex, possibly obliterating any evidence of such features.
- Lauer 1955, p. 120. For a line drawing of the fragments, see Smith 1981, pp. 128-29, fig. 122.
Provenance: Lisht North, pyramid of Amen-emhat I, above entrance of robbers’ tunnel, Metropolitan Museum of Art excavation, 1914
Bibliography: Hayes 1953, pp. 68-69, fig. 45; Goedicke 1971, pp. 68-74
Limestone with faint remains of paint
H. 72.8 cm (28 5/8 in.); w. 77 cm (30 3/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1922 22.1.13
An elaborate arrangement of nautical equipment dominates this relief depicting a ship under sail, one of the rare types of Old Kingdom scene in which human figures are
dwarfed by inanimate objects.1 Most imposing are the tall, tapering mast with a tightly wound truss at the bottom and the large, sweeping sail, the undifferentiated expanse of which is broken up by an array of ropes. The two men at the bow are probably piloting the craft,2 while the man behind them adjusts the sail. Slender oars rest along the side of the ship. At the prow are three bladelike objects, vertical in front and curved in back, each of which is decorated with a representation of the sacred wedjat eye, a protective symbol usually associated with the
falcon deity Horus. The device probably serves to protect the vessel physically3 and spiritually, as well as magically allowing it to see where it is going.4 At the right end of the fragment is part of the last figure aboard the preceding vessel and a line of indecipherable text. In front of the better-preserved ship a partially restored column of inscription states, “Sail well like this, hurry.”5 The scene is most notable for its fine, detailed execution and complex series of overlapping forms. Particularly striking is the tangle of legs, oars, and ropes on the
ship’s deck. Although relatively small, the figures are carefully rendered and include such features as eyebrows raised above the surface of the faces and delicately rounded cheeks. In places where overlapping occurs, the area around the forward object is carved back completely, creating a sense of depth and demonstrating the artist’s control of the stone surface. Such interest in the three-dimensional possibilities of a relatively flat plane is most striking in the small wedjat eyes, which appear to float on top of the bladelike objects.
A significant number of the reused blocks found at Lisht depict ships fitted with sails or oars.6 Because of their similar stylistic features and their scale, a group of the sailing-ships reliefs (including this one and cat. nos. io6, 107) has been recognized as belonging to a single scene.7 The group was originally dated between the mid-to-late Fourth Dynasty and the early Fifth Dynasty, but in light of the recent discovery at Lisht of a block inscribed in the name of Userkaf (cat. no. 103), it may now be possible to refine this date. That the sailing-ships group is earlier than the nautical scenes found in the pyramid complex of King Sahure at Abusir is confirmed by such stylistic criteria as the subtly handled musculature of the running figure in the relief from the Art Museum, Princeton University (cat. no. 107), and the triple aprons worn by some of the sailors. Figures from the Sahure pyramid-complex reliefs have much more explicitly rendered musculature (cat. nos. 112,-114), and nearly all the aprons there have four strips of hanging cloth. Moreover, relief representations after the time of Sahure tend to be flatter, with overlap indicated by means of either incised lines or surfaces carved back only in the area immediately around the contour line of the forward object.9
A comparison of the sailing-ships fragments and the reliefs dated to the reign of
Userkaf shows that there are strong similarities between the two groups as well as several differences. The same intricate spatial relationships characterize the sailing-ships scene and the reliefs from Userkaf’s complex, including those showing running troops (cat. nos. 103, 104) and two birds (cat. no. 102). Especially notable are the animated poses of the sailors, who are captured during an instant of their work. A striking parallel to this liveliness is found in a unique representation of rowers from the Userkaf pyramid temple.10 Here the poses of the figures are arranged to show every moment in the sequence of an oar stroke; each man is depicted in a position that could only be held for a split second. The method of carving that represents overlapping objects entirely on top of each other is also paralleled on securely dated Userkaf blocks, particularly one famous image of birds in a marsh.11
The sailing-ships group is rendered in somewhat bolder relief than the Userkaf running-soldiers blocks, and the long, narrow objects in it have rounder surfaces, suggesting that if the ships scene belongs to the Userkaf pyramid complex, it may not come from the same wall as the running troops.12 However, it should be noted that other relief fragments from Userkaf’s temple, particularly the marsh scene, are also carved in bolder relief than the running troops. Another difference is found in scenes with strips of water. Securely identified Userkaf reliefs omit the narrow ground line that is usually placed directly beneath a zigzagging expanse of water,13 but this line is included on the block of the sailing-ships group in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (cat. no. 106). Thus, while it seems likely that the sailing scene originated at the pyramid complex of Userkaf, a mid-to-late Fourth Dynasty date cannot be completely ruled out. AO
- For a general discussion of scale in two-dimensional Egyptian art, see Schäfer 1986, pp. 230-34.
- Goedicke 1971, p. 110.
- Jones (1995, p. 40) states that the bladelike objects provided protection for seagoing vessels. The group of sailing ships under discussion here are probably not seagoing vessels, as they lack hogging trusses, an essential feature of seagoing ships (ibid., pp. 40-42). However, the differences between riverine and seagoing vessels are not marked during the Old Kingdom; see Landström 1970, p. 64.
- As noted by Goedicke (1971, p. 109), similar symbols are found on ships carved in reliefs found in the pyramid temple of King Sahure at Abusir and the causeway of Unis at Saqqara. The so-called ship of state from a relief in the valley temple of Sahure has a wedjat eye applied to the side of its prow; Borchardt 1913, pl. 9.
- Goedicke 1971, pp. 111-12. For a similar inscription, see Ziegler 1993a, pp. 125, 140.
- Goedicke 1971, pp. 86-118. The use of sails or oars does not indicate the type of ship being depicted, but rather the direction in which the vessel is traveling. Vessels going up the Nile sailed with the prevailing north wind, while those moving down the Nile were rowed.
- Ibid., pp. 106-18; only three of these reliefs are included in this catalogue.
- Borchardt 1913, pls. 9-14, 17, 24, 28-30, 52-53, 55
- For a discussion of style in early Fifth Dynasty royal relief, see Smith 1946, pp. 176-85.
- Smith 1981, pp. 128-29, fig. 122.
- Smith 1946, pl. 52.
- For the existence of different relief heights on the same wall during the Fourth Dynasty, see ibid., pp. 161-62, 165. In the Sahure complex nautical scenes are found in both the pyramid temple and the valley temple; see Borchardt 1913, pp. 23-28, pls. 9-14.
- These include the Metropolitan Museum block with running troops (cat. no. 104), a sccne with rowers (Smith 1981, pp. 128-29, fig. 122), and pieces known to this author through unpublished drawings by William Stevenson Smith in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Provenance: Lisht North, pyramid of
Amenemhat I, west side of core, Metropolitan
Museum of Art excavation, 1920-22
Bibliography: Goedicke 1971, pp. 109-12
Reconstructed h. 42 cm (16 1/2 in.); w. 59 cm (23 1/4 in.)
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto 958.49.3
Among the reused blocks found at Lisht were a number of carved fragments— including these—that belong to a single scene of sailing ships. Two other sections are in this exhibition, one from the Metropolitan Museum (cat. no. 105), the other from the Art Museum, Princeton University (cat. no. 107). Our understanding of the original appearance of the entire scene is enhanced by this fragmentary relief. Here we see the slightly concave prow of one ship, the entire side of the hull, the area behind the mast, and the representation of the water on which the vessel floats. The legs of two sailors are shown at the prow of the ship, indicating that the activities taking place on this vessel differ from those visible on the fragment in the Metropolitan Museum, where three sailors stand in front of the mast of another ship.
In the present relief four sailors, whose figures are incomplete, remain behind the mast, and the one who stands second from the right seems to be adjusting the sail. This second group of sailors is placed amid a complex tangle of ropes and oars. The gesture of the third figure from the right is uncommon, although not unknown. This man holds his right arm vertically, while grasping what appear to be two short lengths of rope. His left hand bends sharply behind his back and grasps the right arm just above the wrist, in a gesture that is said to signify respect.1 The same gesture is made by a larger, apron-clad figure in a relief from the pyramid temple of Userkaf,2 but it is uncertain whether this man was part of a nautical scene. A scribe in a relief in the tomb of Prince Ka-ni-nisut at Giza,3 which probably dates to the Fourth Dynasty, assumes what may be the earliest preserved example of this pose.4 Boatmen in the Fifth Dynasty tombs of Akhet-hotep and Ti also make the gesture.5
It seems safe to say that this vessel lacks the wedjat eye standards found on the Metropolitan Museum fragment, as the bases of these objects would be visible if they had existed. The end of a braided rope belonging to the rigging of the ship is attached to the deck above the prow. Two rectangular objects can be seen just behind the prow on the side of the vessel; their function remains uncertain.6 AO
- Dominicus 1994, pp. 5-9.
- Drawing by William Stevenson Smith in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This figure faces to the left.
- Junker 1934, fig. 18, pl. 6b.
- Junker (ibid., pp. 136-37) ultimately dated the tomb to the early Fifth Dynasty (that is, the time of Userkaf), although he had initially placed it earlier. Harpur (1987, p. 270, no. 265) dates the tomb within the first three reigns of the Fifth Dynasty. However, Cherpion (1989, pp. 118-19) assigns it to the Fourth Dynasty, no later than the reign of Djedefre. The reliefs do have a decidedly archaic appearance. For example, there are almost no overlapping figures and the inscriptions are arranged in the relatively undefined registers that are characteristic of the Fourth Dynasty.
- Ziegler 1993a, p. 142. See also Steindorff 1913, pls. 78-81. This parallel to Ti had been noted by Goedicke (1971, p. 108, n. 269), who had learned from Smith about the appearance of the same gesture in a relief from the pyramid temple of Userkaf.
- Landstrom 1970, pp. 40-42. The rectangular shapes on the ships illustrated by Landstrom are similar, but not identical, to those on this sailing ship.
Provenance: Lisht North, pyramid of Amenemhat I, core, Metropolitan Museum of Art excavation, 1908-9
Bibliography: Goedicke 1971, pp. 106-8
H. 57 cm (22 5/8 in.); w. 75 cm (26 1/2 in.)
The Art Museum, Princeton University 1950-128
This fragment of a reused block of stone was found in an unspecified location within the pyramid of Amenemhat I at Lisht. The relief formed part of a scene of sailing ships. Other sections of the scene are today in the Metropolitan Museum (cat. no. 105) and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (cat. no. 106). Here, in what must be an upper section of the composition, we see a huge expanse of billowing sail and a piece of the horizontal top of the mast of one ship. At left, the sail is crossed by an elaborate array of ropes, the individual strands of which are filled with short incised lines, a detail that is omitted on the Metropolitan Museum relief.
To the right of the sail are parts of two vertical lines of inscription; the reading of the column at right is uncertain. The left column states that the ship is “steering to port.”1 Below and to the right, small pieces of the ship sailing ahead of this one and two of its sailors can be seen. The figure to the left may have a short beard, perhaps indicating that he is a foreigner, but the poor condition of this section of the block makes a certain identification impossible. Above the inscription are parts of two soldiers running on a ground line of a subregister.
Examination of the three blocks of the sailing scene included in this exhibition permits us to evaluate the appearance of the whole composition. It must have been dominated by a series of ships with billowing sails, which were manned by a varying number of sailors engaged in a variety of activities. Although the ships all belonged to the same category of riverine vessel, they were not identically rendered. Above the front and back of each ship was a vertical line of text that contained a brief statement concerning the progress of the voyage; an empty vertical band separated the last column of one ship’s inscription from the first column of text associated with the following vessel’s. Above the inscriptions were subregisters with running or striding figures who presumably carried nautical implements or weapons. Columns of text with figures above them are not found in scenes of rowing ships, which occupy a more compact space than the tall sailing ships.2 The total number of sailing ships remains uncertain, and the number of registers that contained them and the purpose of their voyage are unknown as well.
The original scene must have been one of striking beauty and visual interest. Although now only a few traces of green remain on the sail of the Metropolitan Museum relief, this and other large expanses were once brightly painted, perhaps with elaborate patterns similar to those on the sail of Sahure’s so-called ship of state seen in a relief from his valley temple. Contributing to the sense of movement were the varied poses of the sailors carrying out different tasks aboard ships under full sail. Perhaps most impressive, from the point of view of the ancient Egyptian, was the spectacle of so many elaborately outfitted vessels cruising in a stately procession up the Nile. AO
- Goedicke 1971, p. 112.
- For well-preserved boating scenes of the Fifth Dynasty, see Ziegler 1993a, pp. 66-70, 140-43. See also Steindorff 1913, pls. 74-76 (rowing), 77-81 (sailing).
- Borchardt 1913, pl. 9.
Provenance: Lisht North, pyramid of Amenemhat I, core, Metropolitan Museum of Art excavation, 1908-9
Bibliography: Goedicke 1971, pp. 112-13
Opal jasper with traces of deposit in inscription
L. 3.8 cm (1/2 in.); w. 2.5 cm (1 in.); d. 2.5 cm (1 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Edward S. Harkness, 1935 35.9.5
This piece of polished stone is inscribed with the name of King Userkaf, founder of the Fifth Dynasty. Beneath his cartouche, the hieroglyphs indicate that the weight is equal to five deben. The official weight of the deben, a standard measurement for metals, was established in each king’s reign and it changed quite dramatically over time, from approximately 13.6 grams (about ounce) during the Old Kingdom to about 91 grams (about 3 ounces) during the New Kingdom.1 This example is unbroken, and its weight is 68.22 grams—which means that the weight of the deben during the reign of Userkaf was 13.64 grams.2 CHR
- Helck 1980, col. 1202.
- A second weight in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, 14.2.3, inscribed for a man named Akhet-hotep, probably also dates to the Fifth Dynasty. The inscription gives its weight as eight deben. This polished piece of basalt actually weighs 126.5 grams (about four and one-half ounces), yielding a value for the deben of 15.8 grams.
Bibliography: Bull 1935, p. 142, fig. 1; Hayes 1953, p. 5, fig. 47; Kozloff 1982, p. 219, fig. 17
H. 64 cm (25 1/4 in.); w. 46 cm (18 1/8 in.); d. 41.5 cm (16 3/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1918 18.2.4
Against a high back slab the king sits on a block-form seat, with a smaller divine figure standing to his right. The latter is identified as the god of the Coptite nome located in Southern Egypt, by signs carved above his head. In his left hand, which rests on the edge of the throne, he holds an ankh toward the king; in his right he clasps a shen ring.
The king’s Horus name and prenomen are inscribed identically on either side of his legs. a large, rectangular area of the base is broken off in front of the god, leaving only traces of his speech, which can, however, be reconstructed as promising the good things of the South to the king.
a recent study suggesting that this statue was reused from a series planned for the valley temple of Khafre cites a perceived contrast between the lightly incised, abbreviated inscription and the fine, careful workmanship given the king’s physiognomy; it also notes that the style and particularly the statue type are conceptually at home in the period of Khafre and Menkaure.2
Examined at first hand, however, the statue cannot represent Khafre or Menkaure— both because of its more direct spirit and because of stylistic details of the rendering. Compared to the very confidently worked hard-stone statuary of the Fourth Dynasty kings, this statue actually manifests a certain hesitation: for example, while the facial details, particularly of the god, are very fine, other areas, such as the ears and the shen ring, are only schematically rendered, and the body forms are minimally differentiated from the connective stone behind them.3 Moreover, although the kings of the early Fifth Dynasty are only erratically preserved, they certainly used gneiss;4 the wide, long beard with a nonacute lateral profile finds parallels in representations of Neferefre;5 and the heavy lower face and broad, arching upper lip with its shallow central dip bear similarities to the face of the statue of Userkaf from his pyramid temple (cat. no. 100) or to that found in one preserved Sahure fragment—not to Khafre’s face and mouth with its distinctive sharp dip in the center of the upper lip, and certainly not to Menkaure’s.6
It is not impossible that Sahure might have completed a statue that had been only roughed out by a predecessor. He might have intended it for the valley temple of his own pyramid complex at Abusir, where during the previous dynasty such statues had represented the gathering of the divinities of the country around the king.7 Or, if speculations concerning the southern origin of the statue are taken seriously, it might have been a gift to a temple in the Coptite nome.8 In either case, the statue is an imposing image of forceful, direct majesty attended by the gods of the country. MH
- For this material, see Aston 1994, pp. 62-64.
- Seidel 1996, pp. 50-53, 57-58.
- For Khafre, compare the gneiss statue in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (fig. 28); for Menkaure, see cat. no. 68; for the shen ring of Khafre, see Krauspe 1997b, p. 120, no. 237; for ears similar to those of Sahure and the nome god seen on gneiss fragments of Neferefre, see Verner 1985a, Pls. 54, 55.
- Verner 1985a, pls. 54, 55. For possible use of gneiss in Sixth Dynasty royal sculpture, see Romano 1998, nos. 12, 14.
- See Verner 1994a, pp. 145-47, 150, where the original length and width of the beards are visible or traceable. Menkaure’s similar beards are smaller and more angled.
- For Sahure, see Borchardt 1913, p. 150, fig. 197. For comparison with Khafre and Menkaure, see cat. nos. 58-63, 67-70.
- See, for example, D. Arnold 1997, pp. 51-52.
- Seidel (1996, pp. 50-53) is, of course, right to question such suppositions if they are based simply on place of purchase; however, decontextualizations can occur, and involvement with the southern part of the country was surely greater than present evidence would allow (compare cat. no. 27).
Bibliography: Seidel 1996, pp. 50-533
Berlin, 1910. Made by Stegemann Brothers; restored by Ann Heywood, The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation, and Ronald Street, Molding Studio, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998
Wood, plaster, sand, and cardboard
Large model: h. 62 cm (24 1/2 in.), w. 200 cm (78 1/2 in.), d. 160 cm (63 in.); small model: h. 12 cm (5 in.); w. 110 cm (43 in.), d. 80 cm (31 1/2 in.); scale 1:75
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Dodge Fund, 1911 11.165
The Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft under Ludwig Borchardt excavated the pyramid complex of Sahure at Abusir in 1907-8. Built in 1910, the present models (see p. 332) are complete reconstructions of the exterior architecture of the complex, including such details as wall decoration. Two of several identical models made for museums, they are important examples of architectural model building as well as valuable historical artifacts. They were recently restored by Ann Heywood of The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation and Ronald Street of the Molding Studio of the Metropolitan Museum (a mechanism to lift the temple’s center part has not been reactivated).
The models show the spatial organization of an Old Kingdom pyramid complex, which consists of the smaller valley temple and the larger pyramid temple adjoining the 50-meter-high pyramid. The 235-meter-long causeway (a, d) connecting the structures was omitted because of limited space. The valley temple, rising above a harbor basin connected to the Nile, may be analogous to the landing station of a royal palace, where the barks of visiting deities and dignitaries landed to be received by the deified king. It is not known whether the royal funerary procession also landed here.
The tall front part of the pyramid temple protrudes from the enclosure wall. This section, which may represent the festival halls of the royal palace, contains an entrance hall and a court surrounded by palm columns (e). The actual mortuary cult section of the temple, with a lower roof, is hidden behind the enclosure wall. The main feature of this rear temple is its offering hall (identifiable by its raised roof [g]) with the false door and the altar for the mortuary offerings. As is usual, a small subsidiary pyramid of unknown purpose is located behind a separate wall in the southeast corner of the main enclosure.
The large model shows the inaccessibility so characteristic of Egyptian sacred architecture. The vast undecorated limestone wall surfaces emphasize the sense of exclusion. Even the red granite colonnades in the valley temple are exterior additions that offer no direct access to the interior.
In the model the rear halves of the pyramid and the enclosure wall are cut away to reveal the structure’s interior. The pyramid’s core masonry is built in six immense steps, covered with roughly dressed blocks. The steps are filled with rough backing stones cased with blocks of smoothed Tura limestone. It is not known whether the pyramid was crowned by a capstone of white limestone or dark hard stone. Below, at court level, is the entrance to the funerary apartments. A gradually descending corridor, lined with heavy limestone blocks, leads to the burial chamber in the pyramid’s center. The chamber’s roof is constructed of three layers of enormous limestone blocks probably weighing fifty tons each. The access to the chamber was barred by three granite portcullises. DA
Bibliography: Borchardt 1910; Borchardt 1911