Pair statue of Ptahkhenuwy and his wife

Egyptian
Old Kingdom, Dynasty 5
2465–2323 B.C.


Findspot: Egypt, Giza, tomb G 2004

Dimensions

Height: 70.14 cm (27 5/8 in.)

Accession Number

06.1876

Medium or Technique

Painted limestone

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

Private sculpture of the Old Kingdom copied royal sculpture: the poses, youthful body forms, and the wife’s embrace of the husband in this private sculpture is the same as those of King Menkaura and his queen in their dyad. The man here is identified by an inscription painted on the base in black paint as Ptahkhenwy, supervisor of palace retainers. He stands with his left leg forward in the traditional male pose, and his partner, her name no longer legible in the inscription and identified now only as “his wife whom he loved,” stands beside him with both feet together.

Most Egyptian sculpture was painted, but all too often the paint has not survived. Fortunately, such is not the case with this statue. The husband’s skin is red ochre, the traditional color for men, whose work outside would have left them sunburned. The wife’s yellow-ochre skin reflects the traditional role of women inside the house. Both their facial features are the same. Neither is a true portrait, but rather an idealized likeness of how each wished to be remembered for eternity. Negative space between the couple and the base is painted dark gray.

The garments of the pair are white, to reflect the color of the undyed linen from which they were made. She wears a V-neck sheath dress that was customary for a woman of the Old Kingdom. It clings so tightly here that it reveals every aspect of her body beneath. Walking would have been impossible. Surviving examples show that in reality, such garments were much looser. He wears a knee-length, wraparound kilt, the most common garment for men.

Jewelry added bright splashes of color. Both wear broadcollars, brightly painted to imitate semiprecious stone or faience. She wears two anklets and a bracelet in addition, making up a parure that is strikingly similar to actual jewelry found in Old Kingdom tombs. His black wig is composed of curls cut in rows. Natural black hair peeks out from beneath her black wig, which is parted in the center and reaches to shoulder level.

The statue was found in the serdab of the couple’s tomb and was one of the first objects to be excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. The excitement of the Museum Trustees when it first arrived in Boston played a key role in their decision to commit to funding further excavations.

Provenance

From Giza, tomb G 2004. 1906: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1906: assigned to the MFA by the Egyptian government.
(Accession Date: November 8, 1906)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition