Head of a queen, from a sphinx
Head of a female sphinx
Middle Kingdom, reign of Senwosret II
Findspot: Egypt, Said to be from Matariya
Width x height x depth: 24 x 27 x 22 cm (9 7/16 x 10 5/8 x 8 11/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Egypt: Sculpture and Tomb Chapels (Gallery 209)
This nearly life-sized head of a royal woman comes from a sphinx. The ancient Egyptians viewed sphinxes both as symbols of royal authority and as manifestations of the sun god. Accordingly, both male and female members of the royal family had themselves portrayed as sphinxes. Female sphinxes, however, are exceedingly rare before Dynasty 12, and males remained more common throughout the Middle Kingdom.
Carved of glistening quartzite, this woman is identified as a queen or princess by the royal uraeus cobra on the brow of her wig. While the long, striated wig, large ears, and straight mouth are typical Middle Kingdom features, the modeling of the face is remarkable. When compared to the idealized youthfulness of Lady Sennuwy, this face is decidedly more lifelike. The careful rendering of the full cheeks, the high cheekbones, the hollows beside the nose, and the lines around the mouth and chin convey a real sense of individuality and maturity often lacking in representations of Egyptian women, leading some scholars to suggest that the statue approaches true portraiture, rare in Egyptian art in any period.
While the original context is unknown, the statue almost certainly stood in a temple. It is reported to have come from a site near ancient Heliopolis, the cult center of the sun god and therefore a particularly appropriate setting for a sphinx.
Said to be from Matariya. Before 1982, private collection, Paris [see note]. By 1982, Galerie Sycomore, Paris; 1984, sold by the Galerie Sycomore to Jack A. Josephson; 2002, partial sale and partial gift of Magda Saleh and Jack A. Josephson to the MFA. (Accession Date: December 18, 2002)
NOTE: Published as being in a Paris private collection by Dietrich Wildung, Sesostris und Amenemhat: Aegypten im Mittleren Reich (Fribourg, 1984), fig. 75.
Partial gift of Magda Saleh and Jack A. Josephson in honor of Dr. Rita E. Freed, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art and museum purchase with funds from the Florence E. and Horace L. Mayer Funds, Egyptian Curator's Fund, Marilyn M. Simpson Fund, Norma Jean and Stanford Calderwood Discretionary Fund, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Vaughn, Jr., The Vaughn Foundation Fund, Egyptian Deaccession Fund, Mr. and Mrs. John H. Valentine, Jane Marsland and Judith A. Marsland Fund, Ernest Kahn Fund, Susan Cornelia Warren Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, Mary L. Smith Fund, John Wheelock Elliot and John Morse Elliot Fund, Mary E. Moore Gift, Mrs. James Evans Ladd, Frank Jackson and Nancy McMahon, Alice M. Bartlett Fund, Benjamin Pierce Cheney Donation, Frank M. and Mary T. B. Ferrin Fund, Meg Holmes Robbins, Mr. and Mrs. Mark R. Goldweitz, Allen and Elizabeth R. Mottur, Barbara and Joanne Herman, Clark and Jane Hinkley, Walter and Celia Gilbert, Mr. and Mrs. Gorham L. Cross, Mr. and Mrs. Miguel de Bragança, Honey Scheidt, Mr. and Mrs. G. Arnold Haynes and Margaret J. Faulkner