ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

Egyptian Bronze Sculpture of the Leonine Goddess Wadjet - X.0432
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 1080 BC to 650 BC
Dimensions: 10" (25.4cm) high
Collection: Egyptian
Style: 21st Dynasty to 25th Dynasty
Medium: Bronze

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. Psammetik 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.

Although bronze is a fairly durable material, larger hollow-cast pieces such as this one are exceedingly rare. Not only are they more delicate than smaller solid-cast works, but they were frequently melted down by looting armies hungry for booty. This example features fantastic engraved details including whiskers around the mouth and a mane decorated with a motif resembling the petals of a lotus. Cast on a large scale, this impressive work surely would have once served as a centerpiece in a temple dedicated to this mighty goddess.

This extraordinarily large bronze was consummately cast via the lost wax method and depicts a lioness-goddess enthroned. She is represented wearing the tightly-fitting sheath, woven of the finest byssos linen, which exclusively woven in temple workshops. This sheath reveals the lithe forms of her female body but avoids all indications of its own details such as the ends of sleeves, a neckline, and the like. The accessories of the goddess include a broad collar, the floral strands of which are visible between the lappets of her tripartite wig. These protruded from beneath her mane, the individual hairs of which are indicated by incision. The metal workers have paid particular attention to the details of her head which is dominated by her round eyes, perky, erect ears, and her long snout with its incised smile and whiskers. An attribute, perhaps created in a different material, was originally fitted into the cobra circlet which crowns her head and sits atop the tuffs of ornamented hair. This circlet is itself fronted by a rearing uraeus, or sacred cobra.

Although there is a tendency to regard all such leonine images as depictions of either the goddess Sakhmet or Bastet, the sheer size of our example and the technique by which it was created, suggest that it should be assigned to the Third Intermediate Period, a time when such masterful, large scale bronzes were being routinely created in ancient Egypt. There are at least forty-five related bronze examples either of leonine goddesses, such as ours, or of the god Horus. Several of these are inscribed, and those inscriptions identify the leonine goddess as Wadjet who is associated with a cult center localized in the Egyptian Delta city of Buto. The original goddess of Buto was a cobra goddess who in time was assimilated with Wadjet. It is for this reason that the cobra figures so prominently as an attribute on our statuette. This goddess was considered one of the primeval deities of Egypt and was often identified as the tutelary goddess of Lower Egypt, and her shrine at Buto, often called Dep, being was considered one of Egypt’s national sanctuaries.


 

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