1450 BC to 1070 BC
5″ (12.7cm) high
This elegantly-carved head represents the Egyptian goddess Hathor – also known as Mehturt – who was one of the longest- worshipped deities in the Egyptian pantheon. Like most Egyptian gods, she went through various incarnations from a “cow goddess” flanking Narmer (who unified Egypt in the 31st century BC) on his eponymous palette, through to being the wife of Ra (the sun god), the wife of Thoth (god of the moon and/or a heavenly mediator) and the mother of Horus (the god of the sky). However, she never lost her primary role, which was goddess of the Milky Way, representative of milk spilling from the udders of a heavenly cow.
As the Milky Way, she was believed to encircle the sky – and thus her son, Horus – although she was worshipped for much longer than her offspring, who was replaced by the sun god, Ra. Her significance was mainly economic, for the Milky Way was believed to be a heavenly version of the terrestrial Nile, which could not flood without her assistance. As three quarters of Egypt’s population was directly reliant upon the Nile, a failure to flood spelled disaster; thus her social importance never declined. Expectant mothers also worshipped Hathor, as she was seen as a herald of imminent birth, and she was also seen as a protector for those in desertic areas. It is also interesting to note the parallels between Egypt and other parts of the ancient world who also revered bulls and cows; the Neolithic site of Catal Huyuk was but one of many who became invested with “tauromaquia”, while zebus constituted much of the economy of various Near Eastern and Central Asian countries.
Iconographically, she is depicted as a human female with horns supporting a sun disc, or as a cow, again with the horns and disc motif. Early versions of her image show her with what later became known as the Eye of Horus. When in human form, she wears a distinctive dress with circular decorations. She is often shown with an ankh, a cobra and a sun-disc; she also usually wore a (jewelled) collar. Hathor’s cult was centered in Dendera where she was a goddess of fertility and childbirth. There are many others across Egypt, including one in Southern Sinai. Many of these temples maintained a live incarnation of Hathor, which had to measure up to certain standards. He (for it was usually a bull) was used for divination purposes and lived in the temple, tended to as merits a living deity.
This piece represents Hathor without her usual paraphernalia, but with the ornate eye-design seen in earlier pieces. Her neck is slim and elongated, narrowing superiorly and merging smoothly with the underside of the jaw and the back of the head. The curves are sensuously and fluidly carved, with details such as the ears and the mouth/nose picked out with consummate care. The stone bears signs of applied pigment, which is concentrated on the complex eyes, with elevated rims and the iris and pupil carefully picked out. There are two cavities atop the head that indicate the presence of horns, which were presumably made from an organic material, since lost.
The origin of the piece is uncertain, although it was clearly a devotional object. Its size suggests that it may have been a domestic piece, receiving prayers, libations and requests for supernatural assistance. This is a mature and serene piece of ancient sculpture, and a major asset to any serious collection of Egyptian religious art.Login to view price