ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

 

ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

Stone Portrait of a Ptolemaic King - PF.1122
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 320 BC to 31 BC
Dimensions: 16.5" (41.9cm) high
Catalogue: V4
Collection: Egyptian
Style: Ptolemaic
Medium: Limestone

This monumental head depicts a pharaoh wearing an unstriated nemes-headcloth, the origins of which extend back in time to the very earliest periods of Egypt’s long history. From the time of its introduction, the nemes-headdress remained statistically the most common insignia of Egyptian pharaohs. The leading edge of the nemes over the forehead appears as a raised band over which and centered upon is a uraeus, or sacred cobra, the symbolic function of which was to protect pharaoh from all danger. The hood and head of the uraeus spring from its decoratively designed figure-8 coils which rest slightly above the band. In keeping with Egyptian stylistic conventions, the nemes does not cover the ears which are, thereby, rendered prominent. Some scholars maintain that this prominence is intentional and intended to convey the idea that pharaoh is always attentive and prepared to listen to the petitions of his subjects.

The face of pharaoh is conceived in the idealizing tradition which avoids reference to physical imperfection so that the king is presented as the perfect representative of the gods of the land with whom he interacts on a daily basis as the chief priest of every cult. His corpulent face is charged with symbolic overtones of abundance and prosperity and is dominated by hieroglyphic eyes, raised eye brows in the form of cosmetic stripes, a nose with a thin bridge and well-articulate nostrils, a small mouth with its fleshy lips drawn up into a slight smile with the corners drilled, and a slightly projecting chin.

The style of our portrait suggests it represents one of the Ptolemies, the Macedonian Greek successors of Alexander the Great who carved out Egypt as their kingdom following his death and ruled until the suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 BC. Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and his immediate successors where habitually represented with such corpulent features that they were often nick-named physkon, “chubby.” Our portrait, therefore, is to be dated to the reign of that pharaoh or immediately thereafter, but its idealizing features and lack of specific iconographic details precludes a more precise identification.

- (PF.1122)

 

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