Pseudo-group statue of Penmeru

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


Findspot: Egypt, Giza, G 2197

Dimensions

Overall: 155 x 105 cm, 532.98 kg (61 x 41 5/16 in., 1175 lb.) Mount: 830.99 kg (1832 lb.)

Accession Number

12.1484

Medium or Technique

Painted limestone

On View

Egypt: Old Kingdom Funerary Arts Gallery (Gallery 105B)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

Throughout Egyptian civilization, artists developed new types of statuary to address the constantly changing needs of tomb and temple. Some types found wholesale acceptance and entered the general repertoire; others flourished briefly but were subsequently abandoned. The latter is the case with the statue type shown here; it is known only from Dynasties 5 and 6.

Three adults and two children emerge from inside a rectangular frame. The two on the viewer’s left are clearly male and differ from each other only in their garments. They do not interact in any way. The rest of the figures form a unit, apparently a family group. A woman on the viewer’s right, slightly shorter than the two men, rests her hand on the shoulder of the man in the center, while two diminutive children, a boy on the left and girl on the right, touch his leg. One would expect the figure on the far left to be unrelated to the others.

The inscription, however, tells a different story. Both male figures are identified as Penmeru. A Belgian Egyptologist in the 1920s coined the term “pseudo-group” to describe such sculptures in which the same person was depicted two or more times. Different interpretations have been advanced since then to explain the meaning of pseudo-group statues. Do they reflect the dual nature of Upper and Lower Egypt? Are they representations of a man and his ka? Do they show the same man at different stages of his life? It is clear that by Dynasty 5, ever-increasing numbers of statues were included in tombs. (One tomb owner had up to fifty representations of himself.) Pseudo-group sculptures may reflect that trend. Penmeru’s tomb contained three pseudo-group statues, bringing the total of his depictions to seven. The present example is the only one in which additional family members are shown. The figures are placed inside a frame that mimics the architecture of a door. It is speckled in imitation of granite, a costlier stone than the limestone from which it is actually made.


Throughout Egyptian civilization, artists developed new types of statuary to address the constantly changing needs of tomb and temple. Some types found wholesale acceptance and entered the general repertoire; others flourished briefly but were subsequently abandoned. The latter is the case with the statue type shown here; it is known only from Dynasties 5 and 6.

Three adults and two children emerge from inside a rectangular frame. The two on the viewer’s left are clearly male and differ from each other only in their garments. They do not interact in any way. The rest of the figures form a unit, apparently a family group. A woman on the viewer’s right, slightly shorter than the two men, rests her hand on the shoulder of the man in the center, while two diminutive children, a boy on the left and girl on the right, touch his leg. One would expect the figure on the far left to be unrelated to the others.

The inscription, however, tells a different story. Both male figures are identified as Penmeru. A Belgian Egyptologist in the 1920s coined the term “pseudo-group” to describe such sculptures in which the same person was depicted two or more times. Different interpretations have been advanced since then to explain the meaning of pseudo-group statues. Do they reflect the dual nature of Upper and Lower Egypt? Are they representations of a man and his ka? Do they show the same man at different stages of his life? It is clear that by Dynasty 5, ever-increasing numbers of statues were included in tombs. (One tomb owner had up to fifty representations of himself.) Pseudo-group sculptures may reflect that trend. Penmeru’s tomb contained three pseudo-group statues, bringing the total of his depictions to seven. The present example is the only one in which additional family members are shown. The figures are placed inside a frame that mimics the architecture of a door. It is speckled in imitation of granite, a costlier stone than the limestone from which it is actually made.

Provenance

From Giza, G 2197. December 5, 1912: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1912: assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt.
(Accession Date: December 5, 1912)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition