300 BC to 300 AD
19″ (48.3cm) depth
A mythological composite creature that first appeared during the 4th Dynasty, the sphinx is one of the most iconic compositions in Ancient Egyptian art. Featuring the body of a recumbent lion and the head of a king, sphinxes symbolize royal strength. Here, the sphinx reclines along a high rectangular base with its forepaws extended forward and its tail curled around the right flank, as was the customary stance of this creature. The head of the king is carefully rendered, wearing a wide beard and a cloth nemes headdress (the same type immortalized in the mask of Tutankhamun) complete with a uraeus cobra present just above the forehead. The headdress has been drawn together in the back to form a queue, also called a pigtail. While this sphinx appears to be a classic Egyptian sculpture, it was actually carved by their neighbors directly to the south, the Nubians, who inhabited the modern day regions of southern Egypt and northern Sudan.
The Nubian and the Egyptian civilizations had close ties dating back as early as 3000 B.C. and the Egyptians prized the commodities of ivory, ebony, and gold that came from this land. Naturally, the Nubians were highly influenced by the civilization of their powerful neighbors, who dominated their land for multiple intervals of time during their lengthy histories. There is even a distinctive Nubian script known as Meroitic based on Egyptian hieroglyphs that came into use during the 2nd Century B.C., around the same time that this sculpture was carved. In Nubian history, the Meroitic Period corresponds to the time when the royal burial sites were first shifted from the northern city of Nuri south to the city of Meroe for reasons unbeknownst to us. The Hellenization of Egypt had a profound impact on the arts during the Meroitic Period; however, traditional Egyptian elements were still employed for religious and funerary works, implying that this sphinx may have once stood guard outside a temple or may have been commissioned specifically for burial alongside a deceased king.
For a Related Example in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Please See: Steffen Wenig, Africa in Antiquity: The Arts of Ancient Nubia and the Sudan, Vol. II. Brooklyn, 1978. no. 150, p. 226.