750 BC to 330 BC
13.25″ (33.7cm) high
The immensely complex systematics of ancient Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife are embodied in this attractive wooden polychrome piece. According to the hieroglyphics, the sculpture is dedicated to a god who went through two major incarnations between the early Old Kingdom and the birth of the New Kingdom. Starting as Seker – literally “cleaning of the mouth” after an ancient rite following decease – his role was to divorce the body from the soul following death, and to ensure the movement of the deceased’s spirit to the hereafter. At this point, he was depicted as possessing avian characteristics, due to the popular conception that the Ba (soul) was prone to fly confusedly above the Ba (body) after death. He lent his name to the necropolis outside Memphis (Saqqara), and was revered throughout this area and ancient Thebes where there was an annual festival in his honour.
Despite his somewhat funereal reputation, he became – through an accidental alliteration of his name (ie. “the decorated one”) the patron god of metalworkers and jewellers. This saw him become allied to Ptah (the god of craft workers), thus being Ptah-Seker for the remainder of the Old Kingdom. In the New Kingdom, however, he was promoted to a higher status – that of Osiris, the god of death. Thus glorified as Ptah-Seker- Osiris, he occupied numerous social and funerary roles, and was worshipped in many different ways for different reasons.
The Late Period was the last phase of Egyptian dynastic domination. It is characterised by the see-sawing of power between Egypt and various Middle Eastern groups, notably the Persians. This period saw Egypt conquered twice, at the end of the 26th dynasty, and again – following a rebellion under the Amyrtaeus, Prince of Sais – in the thirtieth dynasty. While political power was waning, cultural trends were highly dynamic, with numerous external influences, allied with conservative trends – especially surrounding funerary issues – that conspired to produce a highly distinctive artistic heritage. The arrival of the Roman legions was perhaps the greatest single cultural change Egypt had ever experienced.
Like most societies, Egypt operated on the basis of conspicuous consumption – this is amply evident from the fact that they created some of the ancient world’s most flamboyant architecture. Unusually, however, they continued this principle into the hereafter. It is hard to overestimate Egypt’s preoccupation with death; the Book of the Dead was, after all, their main religious treatise, while much of their iconography and social stratification was based upon what happened after one died. As a result, the most wealthy and influential people manifested their uniqueness and proximity to the pharaohs (themselves gods, in the eyes of their people) by making as much of an impact as possible with grave furniture and funeral preparations.
The piece is in good condition, depicting a figure (perhaps the deceased, rather than the deity himself) standing with arms folded on the far end of a hieroglyph-decorated block. The figure is clearly meant to represent a mummified individual, with an ornately-decorated pectoral overlying traditional bandaging, with a long red- painted list of hieroglyphs displayed frontally. The mummy cloth itself is represented with a lattice-work grid. The face is impassive, with a nose in relief, all features highlighted with black paint. The hairpiece is long and runs down to the mid-chest. The general ground is brownish- yellow, with details picked out in black, red and white. The relatively large size and frailty of this piece makes its survival in such good condition something for which to be thankful. This is an impressive sculpture, and perhaps the ultimate conversation piece for a collection or domestic setting.Login to view price