King Menkaura, the goddess Hathor, and the deified Hare nome

Egyptian
Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Menkaura
2490–2472 B.C.


Findspot: Egypt, Giza, Menkaura Valley Temple

Dimensions

Width x height x depth x weight: 43.5 x 84.5 x 49 cm, 187.8 kg (17 1/8 x 33 1/4 x 19 5/16 in., 414.02 lb.) Mount (Steel pallet sits on wooden reinforced pedestal/4-steel clips): 10.2 x 62.5 x 64.8 cm (4 x 24 5/8 x 25 1/2 in.) Case (wooden pedestal): 100.3 x 68.6 x 71.1 cm (39 1/2 x 27 x 28 in.) Block (Plex-bonnet): 105.4 x 64.5 x 67 cm (41 1/2 x 25 3/8 x 26 3/8 in.)

Accession Number

09.200

Medium or Technique

Greywacke

On View

George D. and Margo Behrakis Gallery (Gallery 207)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

The sublime beauty of this triple statue masks the sophistication of its composition. The central and largest figure is Hathor, an important goddess throughout Egyptian history associated with fertility, creation, birth, and rebirth. She was the king’s divine mother and protector. Here, she wears a headdress of cow’s horns and a sun disk, but otherwise her appearance is that of a human female, and she is depicted with the same hairstyle and garment as her earthly counterparts.

Hathor embraces King Menkaura, who is standing to her left. He wears a crown symbolic of Upper Egypt (the Nile Valley) and a wraparound kilt whose sharp pleats conform to the outline of his body. In his right hand he holds a mace, a weapon frequently wielded by kings in relief, but until now not reproduced in stone sculpture. Here, artists solved the problem of carving its thin and fragile shaft in the round by resting it on Hathor’s throne. In Menkaura’s left hand is a short implement with a concave end; it is generally interpreted as a case for documents. Size corresponds to hierarchical position in Egyptian art, and while visually Hathor and Menkaura appear to be the same height, the seated goddess is significantly larger in scale. Like Menkaura’s queen in the pair statue (pp. 86-87), Hathor’s embrace is one of association, not affection, and all three figures gaze impassively into a distant horizon.

The third and smallest figure is a goddess of lesser importance, associated not with the entire country, but with a single district in Upper Egypt known as the Hare nome. It is symbolized by the rabbit standard she wears on her head. An artist has cleverly merged the ankh sign she carries in her left hand with Hathor’s throne. The Hare nome goddess, like Hathor and Menkaura, exhibits a body proportioned according to the Old Kingdom ideal of beauty and is modeled with the restrained elegance that makes this period a highpoint of Egyptian art.

The inscription on the sculpture’s base clarifies the meaning of this complicated piece: “The Horus (Kakhet), King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Menkaura, beloved of Hathor, Mistress of the Sycamore. Recitation: I have given you all good things, all offerings, and all provisions in Upper Egypt, forever.” It signifies that all the material goods produced in the Hare nome will be presented to the king to sustain him in perpetuity. One theory suggests that eight such triads, each featuring the king and Hathor with one of the other nome deities, were set up in Menkaura’s Valley Temple.

Provenance

From Giza, Menkaura (Mycerinus) Valley Temple. 1908: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1909: awarded to the MFA by the government of Egypt.
(Accession Date: May 17, 1909)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition