Head of Nectanebo II
Late Period, Dynasty 30, reign of Nectanebo II
Overall: 30 x 24.5 x 24cm (11 13/16 x 9 5/8 x 9 7/16in.)
Medium or Technique
Egyptian Late Period Gallery (Gallery 216)
This superb portrait of Egypt’s last native pharaoh is the product of three thousand years’ expertise in carving hard stone. The volumes of his helmet-shaped crown — the Blue Crown, or khepresh, are sleek and streamlined, almost aerodynamic. The artist reveled in the mottled texture of the stone, and polished it to a glistening sheen in a painstaking process reserved for the most important statues.
Nectanebo II was known as the favorite of the gods, renowned for his piety, devotion to the sacred animal cults, lavish gifts of land, restoration of cult statues, and founding of new temples. Thirty sites from the Delta to Elephantine and as far west as Siwa attest to his extraordinary building activity: fourteen completely new structures plus extensions to existing sanctuaries and gifts of temple furniture. Such expenditures would have been remarkable at any time but were particularly so when the country was under constant threat of invasion from the Persians.
In 343 B.C. Nectanebo II was defeated by the Persians. Nothing is known of his death. Legend has it that he escaped to Macedonia. A skilled magician, he appeared to Queen Olympias in her bedchamber disguised as her husband Philip, and sired the future Alexander the Great. It is certain that he was honored under the Ptolemies, for whom he provided an ideal role model as pharaoh. A cult that worshipped Nectanebo II as a divine falcon, the epitome of kingship, persisted at least until the reign of Ptolemy IV.
By 1939: European private collection (letter from Georges Felus, November 8, 1985); 1950-1985: Georges Felus Collection, Paris; 1985: purchased by Edward Safani d. b. a. Safani Gallery, New York; 1990-97: American private collection; December 15, 1992, Christie's New York, Antiquities, lot 106; July 1993-July 1995: on loan to the Brooklyn Museum of Art; December 18, 1997, Christie's New York, Antiquities, lot73; 1997: sold to Edward and Fay Safani; 2000: purchased by the MFA from Safani Gallery, New York.
(Accession Date: June 21, 2001)
Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously, Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum, Egyptian Curator's Fund, Marilyn M. Simpson Fund, Mrs. William F. Shelley, Walter and Celia Gilbert, Florence E. and Horace L. Mayer Fund, Joan and Jerry Cross, Mr. and Mrs. Mark R. Goldweitz, Elizabeth H. Valentine, Mr. and Mrs. Miguel de Bragança, Clark and Jane Hinkley, Honey Scheidt, Barbara and Joanne Herman, Marietta Lutze Sackler, Velma and Robert Frank, James Evans Ladd, Allen and Elizabeth Mottur, Frank Jackson and Nancy McMahon, and Meg Holmes Robbins