Colossal statue of a falcon (Horus of Nekhen)
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Amenhotep III
Object Place: Sudan, Soleb, found at Gebel Barkal; Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Temple B 502,area III-4
Height x width x depth: 172 x 52.5 x 105 cm (67 11/16 x 20 11/16 x 41 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
One of the most striking examples of large animal sculpture known from ancient Egypt, this divine falcon is exceptionally well-traveled. It was made for Amenhotep III’s temple at Soleb in the Sudan, in celebration of his jubilee. Seven centuries later, long after the temple and its cult had fallen into disuse, King Piye (743–712 B.C.) removed this sculpture, along with others, to adorn the newly renovated temple of Amen at Gebel Barkal farther south. There they were seen by early nineteenth century travelers from Europe and the United States. John Lowell of Boston stopped at Gebel Barkal in 1835 and described in detail the lower part of a statue similar to this one. Although he noted the fine workmanship, he had no idea what it was. Lacking its head, there was no means of telling the front from the back, so it resembled nothing so much as a human foot. “What animal or monster, or instrument it may have supported, one searches in vain to divine,” Lowell wrote. Nine years later, in 1844, the “foot-shaped mass” was taken to Berlin by German Egyptologist Carl Richard Lepsius, who knew exactly what it was.
Little could Lowell know that lying in pieces just beneath his feet was the companion to the fragment now in Berlin. In 1916 the Harvard University–Museum of Fine Arts Expedition began work at Gebel Barkal, where in 1919 the excavators found two large and several smaller fragments stashed in a pit among the debris of the temple’s second court, just opposite the spot in which the Berlin falcon had stood. Fortunately, the fragments included the falcon’s head. It is easy to see why Lowell was confused, for this is not a statue of a falcon as it appears in nature, but a wrapped and mummified emblem of a falcon borne aloft on a standard. Carved in relief on the sides of the base are the carrying pole, supporting strut, and horizontal platform on which the image rests. The inscription calls the falcon Nekheny, “the Nekhenite,” after the Upper Egyptian site of Nekhen, one of Egypt’s oldest cities and the cradle of its monarchy. Early on, this falcon deity merged with another, the sun and sky god Horus, to form Horus the Nekhenite. His cult remained closely associated with the kingship ever after.
From Nubia (Sudan) Gebel Barkal, body found at Gebel Barkal great temple of Amen, inner court B 502, area III-4. Fragments of feather crown found outside temple B 900, Ex.2. Originally from the temp;e pf Amenhotep III at Soleb. 1919-1920: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition