Our finest examples of Egyptian sculpture are exhibited in our Upper Egyptian Gallery. The material on display, including carved relief, stone coffins, and exquisite three-dimensional sculpture, testifies to the superb craftsmanship of Egyptian artists and sculptors throughout its long history.
Highlights of the this exhibit include two statues of the goddess Sekhmet from one of the Theban temples of Amenophis III (ca. 1405-1367 BCE). Portrayed as a lioness or lion-headed woman, Sekhmet was the daughter and defender of the sun god, Ra. Although she was known for her ferocity, Sekhmet was revered by the Egyptians as a protector because of her capacity to spare them from the sun god's wrath. A case along the left wall of the gallery features the portrayal of animals in Egyptian art and iconography. Numerous deities were depicted in animal form, and images of animals such as cats, falcons, serpents, and even scorpions were used as amulets and votive offerings.
Across the gallery is an assemblage of small-scale sculpture, including inlaid bronzes of the Egyptian's primary god of the afterlife, Osiris, and the warrior goddess Neith, patron deity of the site of Sais. Bronzes of deities such as these were produced in large numbers during the Late Period and Greco-Roman Period (664 BC-642 CE), when they were used as votive offerings in the gods' temples. Further along is a series of statues portraying non-royal officials. Statues of this type, which come from tombs, provided a resting place for the ka, or life force,of the deceased person in the tomb. The elegant seated statue represents an official of the Old Kingdom (2625-2130 BCE). The well-preserved paint gives the statue a particularly life-like appearance. The next piece, a seated statue of an unnamed man enveloped by a long cloak, is characteristic of the sculptural style of the Middle Kingdom (1980-1630 BCE). Further along is a portrayal of a woman of the New Kingdom, the singer of Amun, Isis, wearing the elaborate wig and pleated garment typical of the period. Originally she would have sat beside her husband, but his figure has been lost.
In the center of the gallery is an imposing seated statue of Ramesses II from the temple of Harsaphes. Originally carved in late Middle Kingdom, the statue was usurped from an earlier ruler and refitted with a head in Ramesses' likeness. A noteworthy feature of this statue is the disproportionately small head (due to the re-carving of the original), the reconfigured cartouches identifying Ramesses, and the noticeably worn portion of the base near the pharaoh's feet. Non-priests, who were not permitted in the temple, used this area to leave offerings for the gods.
On stylistic grounds, it is believed this statue was carved in the Middle Kingdom and usurped Ramesses II (1290-1224 BCE), whose names are in the deep-cut inscriptions on the throne and bases. An inset false beard has been lost. For artistic reasons, the bull's tail on the back of his kilt is shown as though hanging between his legs.
A sculptor's error is visible in the inscription on the left side of the throne, where the duck and sun disc in the title "Son of the Sun," were reversed and had to be recarved.
Ramesses II, Egypt, Herakleopolis (Temple of Harsaphes), ca. 1250 BCE
Ramesses II is also immortalized in the massive limestone head from a monumental statue located at the gallery's rear left corner. This unusual sculpture was originally part of a statue 15 to 20 feet high that stood at the entrance to a temple at Abydos, the cult center of Egypt's principal funerary deity, Osiris. Much of the original paint is preserved, demonstrating the rich pigmentation of Egyptian sculpture in antiquity.
The door socket located at the exhibit's rear center provides a powerful psychological glimpse at the Egyptian's attitude toward their foreign rivals at a very early point in their history (3000-2900 BCE). Depicted in hard black stone is an enemy who lies on his stomach with his arms bound behind him. A wooden temple door turned on a pole, which fitted into the circular depression in the captive's back. In this way, it symbolically crushed the enemy of Egypt beneath its weight. The prisoner's face, with the corners of his mouth drawn down, seems to express contempt. The door socket is one of the Museum's earliest examples of Egyptian art, fashioned centuries before the pyramids and prior to the establishment of the unified Egyptian state.
Artifacts from the time of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, famous for his revolutionary religious beliefs and innovative artistic style, include a stela that stands as testimony to his monotheistic beliefs-the king is shown worshipping the symbol of the solar disk, the Aten. After Akhenaten's death, all the monuments erected during his reign were defaced or razed. In this case, the original inlay, which would have been brightly colored, has been pried out, and the stela itself has been cut down. Judging from the hieroglyphic texts along the edges, it appears that the stela was later used as the base for a sculpture, probably a sphinx. In a case behind the stela is a selection of other objects from the Amarna period, including a beautifully sculpted limestone torso of a young princess, once part of a group statue portraying the royal family.
Visit the Egypt: A New Look at an Ancient Culture website
This website offers an overview of the Penn Museum's excavations and takes visitors on a virtual tour through the Egyptian Galleries and Collections. Find out about hieroglyphs, gods and goddesses, and funerary practices.