Male figurine

Egyptian
Predynastic Period
Naqada II, 3650–3300 B.C.


Dimensions

Height: 18 cm (7 1/16 in.)

Accession Number

04.1802

Medium or Technique

Terracotta

On View

Egypt: Pre-Dynastic and Dynastic (Gallery 105A)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

Highly stylized clay figures featuring abstract, beaklike faces, long necks, gracefully upraised arms, and legs abbreviated to conical pegs without any indication of feet were probably made to accompany their owners to the grave. Female figurines of this type are far more common than those portraying men, so this well-preserved representation of a man is of particular interest. The lower part of the body is painted white to represent a kilt, while the skin is rendered in red and the schematic facial features are outlined in black.

At present, it is uncertain whom these appealing and enigmatic figures represent. Excavated examples, which are rare, all come from graves. The figures’ peglike lower bodies enabled them to stand erect in the sandy bottom of the shallow, oval burial pits that were popular at the time. Because female figurines sometimes accompany male burials, they clearly do not represent the deceased. The emphasis placed on the breasts of the female figures and the genitalia of the male figures suggests an association with fertility and rebirth in the afterlife. The pose, with upswept arms, may also be a position of mourning, appropriate to the funerary context. Figures with identical poses and conical lower bodies sometimes occupy prominent positions in painted scenes on pottery, leading some scholars to suggest that they may even be gods and goddesses. This interpretation seems unlikely, however, because deities in this period usually take animal forms, and representations of gods and goddesses do not begin to appear in nonroyal graves before the New Kingdom.


Figurines such as this one, featuring stylized, abstract features, beaklike faces, long necks, upraised arms, and abbreviated legs, were probably made specifically as grave goods. Their exact function remains uncertain, although figures in similar poses also appear in tomb paintings and on decorated pottery. Female figurines are far more common than males, making this example particularly interesting. The lower part of the body is painted white to represent a kilt, while the skin is red and the schematic facial features are outlined in black.

Provenance

1904, purchased at Qena from Ghirghis by Albert M. Lythgoe for 4 pounds (with 04.1803 and 04.1804; said to come from Basileia.

Credit Line

Emily Esther Sears Fund