Head and upper torso of a man
Old Kingdom, Dynasty 3
Height x width x depth: 26.5 x 24 x 16 cm (10 7/16 x 9 7/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Although Egyptian artists created colossal sculptures of deities by late Predynastic times and large-scale royal sculptures during Dynasties 1 and 2, it was not until Dynasty 3 that private sculpture of any size was produced. At that point, artists had not yet fully perfected a method for rendering their ideal human figure, but were close to it. This head and upper torso of a man probably from the Third Dynasty shows this penultimate stage.
Sculptors of Dynasty 3 were still exploring the capabilities of stone and often sacrificed realism for practicality. Accordingly, the neck (an area vulnerable to breakage) is short and thick. The artist, however, cleverly used the wig to mask the transition between head and torso, thereby minimizing the deficiency.
Compared to the schematically rendered body, the head is rich in detail. The heavy enveloping wig with horizontal rows of individually rendered curls frames the unidentified man’s round face. An extra line outlines the eyes, and triangular notches mark their inner and outer corners, giving them further emphasis. Faintly modeled furrows running diagonally from the corners of the nose to the straight mouth contribute to his expression of strength and impassivity.
On the back, shoulder blades are rendered as stylized curls, another hallmark of early sculpture. The man’s left arm is slightly forward, indicating that what is now a bust was originally part of a complete figure standing in the traditional left-foot-forward pose. A name and titles on the base would have identified him. Like the vast majority of Old Kingdom sculptures, he was probably placed in his owner’s tomb chapel, where he could receive offerings and serve as a repository for the soul.
By early 20th century: J. Jannette-Walen (no. 277); by 1999: with Vincent. J. Geerling, Archaea, Amsterdam (acquired from family of J. Janette Walen); 1999: purchased by the MFA from Vincent J. Geerling, December 15, 1999.
Marilyn M. Simpson Fund