26th Dynasty Bronze Sculpture of the Apis Bull

SKU X.0347

664 BC to 525 BC


3″ (7.6cm) high x 3″ (7.6cm) wide





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The 26th Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, is traditionally placed by scholars at the end of the Third Intermediate Period or at the beginning of the Late Dynastic Period. In either case, the Saite Period rose from the ashes of a decentralized Egyptian state that had been ravaged by foreign occupation. Supported by the assistance of a powerful family centered in the Delta town of Sais, the Assyrians finally drove the Nubians out of Egypt. At the close of this campaign, Ashurbanipal’s kingdom was at the height of its power; however, due to civil strife back east, he was forced to withdraw his forces from Egypt. Psamtik I, a member of the family from Sais, seized this opportunity to assert his authority over the entire Nile Valley and found his own dynasty, the 26th of Egyptian history. Known as the Saite Period due to the importance of the capital city Sais, the 26th Dynasty, like many before it, sought to emulate the artistic styles of past pharaohs in order to bolster their own claims to power and legitimize their authority.
Yet despite that artist sought to replicate models of the past, Egyptian art of this era was infused with a heightened sense of naturalism. This fact is likely due to the influx of Greek culture. The Saite rulers recognized that Egypt had fallen behind the rest of the Mediterranean world in terms of military technology. Thus, they were forced to rely upon foreign mercenaries, many of whom were Greek. With ties between these two cultures firmly established during the 7th Century B.C., commercial trading quickly blossomed. Special entrepots for foreign traders were established, including the famed center of Naucratis, a Delta town in which Greek merchants were permitted access. During the Saite Period, two great powers of the Mediterranean world became intimately linked, commercially and culturally. As the exchange of ideas flowed across the sea, the Greeks began to experiment on a monumental scale while the Egyptians began to approach art with an enhanced sense of realism.
The sacred Apis bull was considered the living manifestation of the creator god Ptah. In the temple of Ptah at Memphis, the Apis bull resided, serving as an intermediary allowing mankind to communicate with this mighty deity through oracles. From dedicatory sculptures and the writings of Greek historian Herodotus, we are familiar with the special physical attributes that differentiate the Apis from any other bull. The bull is colored black, save for a small white triangular patch on its forehead. Sometimes a solar disk crowns its head, revealing the divine nature of the animal. On its back, it features the wings of a vulture goddess. Here, the wings have been carefully engraved along the top of the bulls body. As well, the tail is typically divided into two stands, perhaps reflecting the original two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt.

As a representative of Ptah, the Apis bull was naturally pampered, residing close to the temple of Ptah in Memphis in a palatial structure befitting for a pharaoh. The average lifespan of the Apis was fourteen years during which time the upper echelons of Memphis society were able to view the creature at certain annual ceremonies in the temple of Ptah. After the Apis passed away, it was mourned as if the pharaoh himself had died. The bull would be mummified, and the embalmed and bejeweled carcass would be paraded through the city on route to the burial plot in Saqqara. Like Ptah himself, the origin of the Apis dates back from the earliest days of Egyptian history, well before the Dynastic era. After Greek occupation, during the Ptolemaic Period, the Apis bull would survive in the form of the composite deity Sarapis. – (X.0347)

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