Head of King Amenemhet III
Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, reign of Amenemhat I
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Kerma, south of Upper Defuffa K II
Overall: 11 x 8 x 13cm (4 5/16 x 3 1/8 x 5 1/8in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Despite its fragmentary condition, what remains of this sculpted head of King Amenemhat III displays the distinctive and powerful style of royal portraiture from the last few reigns of Dynasty 12. By the time Amenemhat took the throne, his predecessors had consolidated and strengthened royal authority by overcoming the civil unrest of the early Middle Kingdom, reorganizing the administration of the provinces and conquering territory far to the south in Nubia. With unprecedented access to raw materials and without political distractions, Amenemhat’s reign was one of great prosperity and artistic achievement.
The official image chosen by the king for his royal sculpture borrows much from that of his father, Senwosret III, whose statues are characterized by a wise but careworn visage. Distinctive features of this style include the high cheekbones, down-turned mouth, hollows beside the nose, and bags under the eyes. In the head of Amenemhat III, the chin also tilts slightly upward and forward, conveying a defiant confidence. Amenemhat originally wore a nemes head-dress, indicated by preserved traces of the striped lappet on his left shoulder. No trace of a broadcollar or other personal adornment remains. The face is beautifully modeled in hard greywacke, a stone once favored by Old Kingdom rulers that regained popularity in the late Middle Kingdom. The impeccably smoothed surface still retains a polish that emphasizes the line of the strong, angular features. It is uncertain where the statue originally stood, but it is likely to have been made for a temple, a common site for Middle Kingdom royal statuary. In addition to memorializing the king, temple statues allowed him to partake of the offerings of the divine cult and, by transferring these blessings to his subjects, to serve as a perpetual intermediary between the divine and human realms. Like a number of important Middle Kingdom Egyptian statues in the Museum’s collection, this one was discovered at the site of Kerma in Nubia, where it had been buried in a royal tumulus generations after Amenemhat III had died. How this large group of sculpture ended up at Kerma remains a mystery.
From Nubia (Sudan), Kerma, south of Upper Defuffa K II. 1914: Excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition