Statue of a queen or goddess

Hellenistic Period (Ptolemaic Dynasty)
300–200 B.C.


Height x width x depth: 75.5 x 19 x 24 cm (29 3/4 x 7 1/2 x 9 7/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World



Statues of women were rare in Egyptian art during the four centuries preceding Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt, but they reappeared in plenty with the Ptolemaic Dynasty. That they did so had everything to do with the Macedonians themselves. Philip II of Macedon began the practice of setting up statues of himself and his family at important Greek shrines and other public places. Macedonian tradition thus neatly harmonized with that of Egypt, where centuries before Egyptian queens like Queen Tiye had appeared as goddesses.

Who is this voluptuous creature? Is she queen or goddess? She strides forward in the traditional attitude with left foot advanced and arms at her sides. Her left fist is clenched around a folded bolt of cloth, and in her right hand she holds an ankh-sign. In true Egyptian style her ankle-length costume hides nothing of her anatomy, and the traditional form-fitting sheath has been fashionably updated to include a shawl, the ends of which are tied in a knot between her breasts. “Venus rings” (rolls of fat) adorn her neck. Her head is missing but the lack of any trace of a long wig on her shoulders indicates that she wore her hair short, either in an Egyptian bob or a Grecian bun.

Without identifying inscriptions, it is not always possible to distinguish a queen from a goddess. Ptolemaic queens were deified in their own right, and their statues were set up in all the temples, where they resided as sunnaoi theoi, or temple-sharing gods. Living queens also served as priestesses in the cults of deified dead queens. Queens even appear making offerings to their deified selves. The knotted garment worn by this figure was in Roman times associated with the goddess Isis, but the Romans took the robe from the Ptolemaic queens who identified themselves with Isis. Cleopatra VII, for example, called herself “Nea Isis,” the new Isis.


By 1990: with Cyril Abecassis, Etude de M. Rene Merk & Associates, Geneva; 1990: purchased by the MFA from Cyril Abecassis, June 27, 1990.
(Accession Date: June 27, 1990)

Credit Line

Marilyn M. Simpson Fund, Horace and Florence E. Mayer Fund, William Stevenson Smith Fund, and Frank B. Bemis Fund