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Colossal statue of King Menkaura (Mycerinus)
Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Menkaura
Findspot: Egypt, Giza, Menkaura Pyramid Temple
Overall: 243.8 x 115.6 x 83.8 cm (96 x 45 1/2 x 33 in.) Other (head): 37.5 x 47cm (14 3/4 x 18 1/2in.)
Medium or Technique
Travertine (Egyptian alabaster)
Ancient Egyptian Large Sculpture (Mycerinus) (Gallery 108)
This colossal statue is one of the largest sculptures of the Pyramid Age. With a height of nearly 2.35 meters (8 feet), as restored, it features King Menkaura, who built the smallest of the three pyramids at Giza. His clothing and headgear clearly identify him as the ruler. He wears a wraparound kilt with a central projection, a garment worn only by kings until the end of the Old Kingdom. On his head is a royal kerchief, called a nemes. A cobra, known as a ureaus, is at his brow. This serpent was considered a deity and charged with protecting the king by wrapping itself around the royal brow and spitting its poisonous venom at the king’s enemies. Menkaura’s long straight beard, another symbol of royalty, was attached by means of a strap that was once painted on the statue’s head. His right hand is clasped around a folded cloth, the ends of which extend onto his thigh.
The king’s expression is one of regal composure and supreme control. With its slightly bulging eyes, bulbous nose, painted moustache (now barely visible), set mouth with pouting lower lip and firm chin, the face is distinctive, but whether or not it represents a true portrait of Menkaura can never be known. This is the face of a mature adult, although neither face nor body displays any signs of aging. It has often been remarked that the head is unusually small for the king’s body. Whatever the artist’s reason for doing this, it certainly emphasizes the breadth of the figure’s torso and enhances its image as omnipotent king.
This statue sat in the deep niche at the back of Menkaura’s Pyramid Temple located at the base of the eastern face of his pyramid until, for reasons unknown, it was deliberately destroyed. In January 1907, George Reisner found fragments from the shoulder and torso in a pit in that room and the large fragment comprising the hands, legs, and throne base in an adjacent corridor. Two months later, while excavating what proved to be a robber’s trench nearby, Reisner found the head in nearly perfect condition.
The different installations of Menkaura atthe MFA reflect the changing aesthetics of the Museum audience. When the fragments first arrived in the Museum, only the head and leg were exhibited. Two years later, additional torso pieces were added, and an abstract restoration of the missing torso elements was attempted. In 1925, at Reisner’s request, the well-known watercolorist and artist for the expedition, Joseph Lindon Smith, sculpted the torso and buttocks in a more naturalistic manner. The restoration that visitors see today was accomplished in 1935 by Smith, assisted by Museum School student Charles Muskavitch.
From Giza, Menkaura Pyramid Temple. 1909: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1909: assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt. (Accession Date: May 17, 1909)
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition